The meaning of the word “clutch” is to grab hold of something, usually something precious, and refuse to let go. In that sense, Jerry West was the very definition of clutch, especially when you tweak that definition and enter it into the basketball vocabulary. West grabbed the chance to win games in the final moments and wouldn’t let go. There are so many examples of games hanging in the balance -- and West wanting the ball, and West seizing victory -- that he earned the nickname that served as a lifelong salute: Mr. Clutch.
West was brilliant almost from the time he stepped on an NBA floor, and he made the Lakers a big attraction in their new Los Angeles home. His biggest roadblock was the Celtics; West could never beat Bill Russell and company. But just the same, West was a big roadblock for the Celtics, too. Footage of West in his early prime against the Celtics is rare, so this is indeed a treat -- West going hard against the Celtics in Game 6 of the 1963 NBA Finals, when he was just about unstoppable.
As the early NBA evolved from the set-shot, West became the league’s first modern-day shooter, in the sense of his balance, accuracy and dare. His classic form set him apart from others and was soon copied by many players throughout the league. West was deadly off the dribble, and as a catch-and-shooter, and on the drive. He had the complete package, which of course made him extremely difficult to defend.
What could be more satisfying than Jerry West and Bob Cousy sharing the same floor? How about Cooz conducting an interview with West at halftime of Game 1 of the 1965 Finals? Take notice of the crewcut on West, and the depth of his answers, and how he seemed just as polished in front of a microphone as he was in front of a defender. This footage is a black-and-white delicacy.
West was always at home on the court, be it a playground near his home or the Lakers’ practice court, and especially the arena court at tipoff. In this rare footage, from deep in the vault, we see West in his element in all three settings. This documentary-style clip shows how West seemed comfortable, no matter if he was teaching kids under the glorious California sun, running offseason drills with teammates in the gym, or handling the ball in tight, high-stakes NBA games.
You want cool? It doesn’t get any chillier than an L.A. matinee idol driving to work in a custom car, wearing a crisp suit and immersing himself in fan mail before reporting for duty. This isn’t about Cary Grant or Steve McQueen or Smokey Robinson. This is about Jerry West and his game-day ritual at the Forum. And this is the definition of cool.
West was notoriously hard on himself, which in turn caused him great grief and misery. This all had to do with trying and failing to beat the mighty Celtics, no shame in that, but still. West came up empty-handed in the 1960s, and particularly felt pain in 1969, when the Lakers -- finally favored over an aging and vulnerable Celtics squad -- couldn’t close out Game 7, at home no less. West explains it all, gut-wrenching as it were.
West played to win, no matter the game, and was especially aggressive in the 1972 All-Star Game, which gave him a chance to test his skills against the best. Everything fell into place: The setting was Los Angeles, the season was a magical one for West and the Lakers, and the game needed a final shot to decide it. Can you guess who would be the most qualified to take that shot?
How does it feel to finally get over the hump, when the hump is Mt. Everest-like? Jerry West had to wait until 1972 to climb that summit and inhale that air and finally look down below and witness the achievement. He was on a team that won a record 33-straight games. He was on a team that won 67 games. And most importantly he was on a team that sipped champagne -- finally. Until this moment, Jerry West walked off the court following all of those losses in the championship round. As you witness his greatest moment, take notice of how he leaves the court this time.