Arizona Basketball

NBA legend Jerry West, 86, impacted Steve Kerr, Lute Olson & others from Arizona

Jerry West’s background as an NBA executive created the opportunity for Lute Olson, Steve Kerr and other Arizona pros such as Andre Iguodala to be graced by his basketball wisdom.

West, one of the most legendary figures in NBA history, passed away on Wednesday. “The Logo,” as he was called signifying his silhouette figure on the NBA logo, was 86.

Kerr began his coaching career in the NBA with the Golden State Warriors in the 2014-15 season, when West was three years into being a member of the franchise’s executive board.

Kerr coached the Warriors to the NBA Finals championship in his first season with former Arizona players Bruce Fraser and Luke Walton as part of his staff. He also won the championship in the 2016-17 season with West helping to orchestrate the way.

“It’s such a sad day. Jerry lived an incredible life,” Kerr said in a social media post released by the Warriors. “Clearly, one of the great figures in NBA history. One of the greatest players of all time. One of the greatest executives ever. And, of course, one of the architects of the Golden State Warriors the past decade, in which we’ve won four titles.

“Jerry played a big role in those titles and also in my life, my experience as a coach. He was a valued mentor, someone I called once a month every season for his thoughts and his advice. He was a wonderful man, wonderful mentor.”

Olson, another significant mentor to Kerr’s development as a player and coach, passed away close to West’s age, one month shy of his 86th birthday in 2020.

Olson reportedly often sought advice from West on behalf of some of his players about their draft potential.

One of the more well-documented cases was that of Brian Williams when he contemplated entering the NBA draft after his junior season in 1991.

Olson mentioned in the Arizona Daily Star that he had “personal conversations” with West (then the Los Angeles Lakers’ GM), Billy Cunningham (former coach and Miami Heat executive), Jerry Colangelo (Phoenix Suns CEO), Bernie Bickerstaff (Denver Nuggets executive) and Pete Newell (legendary coach who was also an NBA scout). He also enlisted the input of the NBA’s chief scout, Marty Blake.

Williams, later known as Bison Dele, eventually left early and was the 10th pick overall in the first round of the 1991 NBA draft by the Orlando Magic.

Olson’s background with West ran longer than that dating to his Iowa days.

Bobby Hansen, one of his star players with the Hawkeyes, told the USA Today after Olson’s passing that he remembers West being near the Hawkeyes in 1983 after they lost to Villanova in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City.

Hansen was speaking with West about his potential future in the NBA when he saw Olson and his wife Bobbi walking with a man wearing “an expensive suit.”

“Who’s that?” Hansen said he asked West.

West told him it was somebody from the University of Arizona (likely former athletic director Cedric Dempsey).

Hansen said he knew right away that “he’s gone.”

Olson left Iowa shortly thereafter for Arizona.

Olson referred his former Iowa standout Ronnie Lester to West to be a scout for the Lakers.

In the 1987-88 season, nine years into West’s tenure as the Lakers’ general manager, Lester began working for the Lakers organization as a scout and later served as the team’s assistant general manager through the 2010–2011 season.

As a member of the Lakers’ front office, Lester won six NBA championships and 10 Western Conference championships.

West had the same championship imprint on Kerr’s career with Golden State.

Kerr and West did not approve of a potential trade of Klay Thompson to the Minnesota Timberwolves for disgruntled Kevin Love before the 2014-15 season.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myer reportedly wanted to make the trade, but West and Kerr vetoed the deal. West threatened to resign his position as head consultant if the deal was made.

According to reports, West believed that trading Thompson away would be a mistake, because the Warriors were a defensive team and Love was not known for his defense.

The “Splash Brothers” — Thompson and Stephen Curry — were born and four titles were later achieved.

Iguodala was the Finals MVP in the first of those titles for Kerr and the Warriors in 2015.

In a 2014 Grantland article on Iguodala written by Jonathan Abrams, memorable words were spoken by West to Iguodala when he saw the former Arizona guard in a hotel lobby in San Francisco after a team function.

West told another person nearby about Iguodala, “I’ll tell you this, he’s better than I thought he was.”

He then mentioned to Iguodala, “You would have loved playing with me. And I would have loved playing with you.”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” West said before walking away.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator in 2016 and is presently a special education teacher at Sunnyside High School in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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