It was 1969. The National Basketball Association was locked in a bitter battle against its upstart rival, the American Basketball Association. At stake: fans, players, media — and millions of dollars.

The NBA turned to Alan Siegel, founder of Siegel+Gale.

Seeking inspiration, Siegel pored through the photo archives of Sport magazine. A particular photo of the All-Star Jerry West grabbed his attention: It was dynamic, it was vertical, it captured the essence of the game.

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The NBA is reluctant to acknowledge that it’s Jerry West in the logo, and Siegel, a lifelong basketball fan, believes he knows why.

“They want to institutionalize it rather than individualize it. It’s become such a ubiquitous, classic symbol and focal point of their identity and their licensing program that they don’t necessarily want to identify it with one player.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern, through a spokesman, declines to comment, saying he doesn’t know whether West is on the logo.

“There’s no record of it here,” spokesman Tim Frank says.

Today, this classic image generates $3 billion a year in licensing, and the NBA name symbolizes the pinnacle of excellence in professional basketball.

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