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Yankees legend Reggie Jackson talks clutch play, LeBron

Mar 16, 2012, 4:49 PM EDT

Yankee Reggie Jackson Getty Images

In some sense, the debate about clutch play in basketball’s statistical community — who is good in the clutch, how you define clutch, if clutch play really even exists — is a moot point.

Players and coaches believe it exists, therefore it does. You can argue that it doesn’t but there is at the very least a placebo effect there — decisions are made, plays are called, players get the ball because they are perceived as clutch or not. Players are labeled that way, fair or not.

When you think of the great “clutch” players in baseball, Reggie Jackson’s name comes up. As a kid who grew up a Dodgers fan I hate him for it — the three home runs in a World Series, the thrown hip to knock down a double play ball, all of it. But he is Mr. October.

He, like other athletes completely believe in clutch play. It colors their actions. And he provided his vision of clutch and the NBA while on The Big O Show on 640 Sports in Miami this week. I think his perceptions mirror that of many other athletes (and coaches not named Spoelstra):

Kobe Bryant misses shots at the end of the game, but it’s not a poor effort or poor performance. I wanted to make sure I gave my team, the ownership, the fans, the manager, my teammates a good full effort at home plate. And if I succeeded, super. But I didn’t want to go up there and have check swings, take strike three down the middle, freeze up, look awkward — I wanted to have a good swing and give a real good effort…

“LeBron needs to get after it with all the skills and size that he’s got. He’s got every skill, every ability you can ask for. If you’re going to make up a player to be a great player — he’s bigger than Jordan, he’s bigger than Wade, he’s bigger than Kobe, he’s bigger than the great players. Unstoppable. And I’ve seen him unstoppable.

“So when I see him have poor efforts when it counts I’m shocked. Because personally think that it’s all in his head. He can do anything he wants. This guy makes threes from half-court. He can drive on anybody, he can get a rebound whenever he wants. He truly is a special athlete and anytime he has a poor effort, as he has in the postseason, it’s just because there is something in his head that is not working right. He’s not believing in himself enough.”

To him (and most every athlete) this is mental, not physical. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of whatever. It doesn’t matter to them, what matters is the perception of overcoming it.

“I was afraid to fail, and I think you’d hear that from some of the friends that I know — (Joe) Montana, Ronnie Lott, (Michael) Jordan, (Larry) Bird, Bill Russell. I know all those guys and we were all afraid to fail. So I aggressively went to succeed and I looked for an opportunity. I wanted to be part of the victory. Whether it’s a slide into second base that breaks up a double play, whether it’s a throw that hits the cutoff man, whether it’s advancing the runner to get into scoring position, let alone the base hit that drives him in or the home run that wins the game or the (pitcher) that strikes out 15. You want to be part of the victory, so I’d constantly look for a moment to be part of what we were doing as a team….

“The moment didn’t tense me up, I looked at the moment as an opportunity for success or the opportunity to be a hero… I cherished that chance….”

As I have said recently with LeBron, what he did in the All-Star game, against the Jazz and every game since is moot — until he succeeds on the biggest stage and wins a ring he will not be able to shake the perception. He will be a guy seen as failing on the big stage until he doesn’t. That’s how we are — Dirk Nowitzki couldn’t win the big game until he did. Same with Peyton Manning and many others. So it is with LeBron.

He can’t be seen as winning it all until he wins it all. It’s all about the playoffs. And the finals. He knows that as well as anyone.

  1. jimeejohnson - Mar 16, 2012 at 5:13 PM

    Reggie Jackson won with those 1970’s Oakland A’s well before he won with the Yankees. But he rose to the highest occasion (World Series) with unprecedented flair, and because of that Jackson’s legacy is one of the greatest in all of sports. LeBron should take Reggie’s advice and GO FOR IT. The question is, does he have it in him? Magic, Bird, and MJ did. Reggie had some to spare! I’ll never forget the look on Tommy Lasorda’s face after those homers! Jackson crushed any hope the Dodgers still had singlehandedly, even though the Yankees had other greats back then, as well.

    • philtration - Mar 16, 2012 at 6:27 PM

      Like Muhammad Ali, I did not like Reggie for a long time. When his career was near an end I saw him in a different light and I realized that he may have had a swagger that rubbed some people the wrong way but he backed it up and he was a winner.

      I went to see him play in the last his last game of his career at Comiskey Park here in Chicago and he got a hit in his last at bat.
      A cool moment.
      Reggie did not care if you loved him. He wanted to beat you and he wanted to win and then let that be his legacy.
      That is LeBron’s problem.
      He wants to be admired and loved but he views winning as just another way to gain admiration and as a way to market his image.
      He does not get it yet.

      • redstar504 - Mar 17, 2012 at 1:14 AM

        That’s LeBron’s problem out there he realy is thinking about perception. His numbers are better than anyone’s now and he is pushing Jordan in a lot of categories. He is perhaps the greatest ever but… he wastes time worrying what people think.

        When MJ hit the classic “The shot” against the Cavs I am sure he simply saw an opening and just took it. No thinking just shot, basket, jump in air celebrate, and win. If he misses and they loose next game he takes the same shot 100% of the time if it is there.

        LeBron James, you can see that hesitation in him. It’s as if he has that split second self limiter of, “what if I miss people will hate me”. He either rushes up a poor shot or gets rid of the ball.

        I think every basketball fan (even the ones who don’t care for him) wishes he would just let it all hang out there. If he would just go for the gusto when it’s all on the line we could possibly be watching the greatest person to ever play in the NBA. Every basketball fan would have to enjoy that, something we haven’t truly had since MJ.

        It’s sad that LBJ limits himself. I don’t really care for him but as a fan of the game I wish he would just go for it and stop thinking so much.

  2. bigbamboom1 - Mar 16, 2012 at 5:25 PM

    Spoken like a clutch genius and true champion.

    I saw Miami get beaten this week by a depleted Chicago Bulls team missing Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton and with an injured Luol Deng. Both Wade and James scored 35 points each. But it was meaningless because the Heat lost down the stretch like they always do in big games. Lebron avoiding the “Big Play”. Wade attempting ridiculous bailout shots. J Jones almost bailing them all out with a blizzard of clutch 3’s. And Chris Bosh running around the top of the key, completely lost and clueless! That’s how they lost the finals to Dallas last year. And nothing has changed. The Heat are going nowhere until Lebron James grabs the ball in the last 2 minutes of key games. Tell everyone to get the ‘H’ale’ out of his way. And prepare to rebound his attempt or dunk it!.He absolutely won’t be a champion until he pulls that off. Just like Reggie suggested.

    Bottom line IMO is that both he and Bosh are suffering from playing in this trio. Ever notice how well James and Bosh play together when Wade is injured. Or how well Wade and Bosh play together when James is injured. This just may be a case where 3 quality pieces don’t fit as nicely together as 2 great ones.

  3. bearsstillsuck - Mar 16, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    Even if James makes the game winning shot in the championship game that wins it all, he still wouldn’t have changed his choking image. I would want to see it happen more than once in a career, just as he has more than once choked in his career before being called a choker.

  4. metalhead65 - Mar 16, 2012 at 6:25 PM

    I bet kurt would believe that being clutch was real if his boy lebron would have delivered in any of those situations in the past. sorry kurt but I will listen to the guys who have performed when it counted and those guys are believe it or not clutch players.

  5. david8726 - Mar 16, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    LeBron has it in him to be clutch. We’ve seen him be clutch before.

    – His game winning shots against the Wizards when he was in Cleveland during those playoff series years ago.

    – The ridiculous buzzer beater against Orlando in that playoff series a few years ago.

    – The time he scored 20+ points in a row VS the Pistons in the 4th quarter and overtime was one of the most brilliant playoff performances of all time.

    – His amazing play down the stretch against both Boston and Chicago in the playoffs with the Heat last year. He buried one dagger jumper after another in those series.

    For some reason, he ran into a mental block and performed badly when it mattered most against Dallas in the FInals last year. So clearly, there is still a hurdle that he has to get over.

    But he is so skilled and so smart on the basketball court that he’ll probably break through the last wall eventually. I wouldn’t bet against him.

  6. losangelasbasketball - Mar 16, 2012 at 7:16 PM

    The only thing that isn’t clutch about Lebron is “The Decision”. The fact that he has that in him makes him un-clutch imo…

  7. lameasish - Mar 16, 2012 at 9:41 PM

    What did Reggie miller ever win? He was never even considered to be the best in the league. That right there proves that LBJ gets judged unfairly. It’s funny when people say LBJ sucks but can only name MJ and Kobe to compare to him..kinda makes you wonder..hate on ladies

    • cordae - Mar 17, 2012 at 8:33 AM

      Thats because its Reggie JACKSON! -___-…

      • cordae - Mar 17, 2012 at 8:34 AM

        Meaning I’m pretty sure it’s hard to be considered the best player in the NBA…..when you were in the MLB, genius.

    • 700levelvet - Mar 18, 2012 at 1:41 AM

      Quite possibly the most un clutch comment EVER……HAHAHA……Not only does the title say Reggie Jackson, it also has a picture of him……Too damn funny…

  8. Gboi - Mar 17, 2012 at 4:05 AM

    4th time kurt helin said the same exact thing since all star game…are we not getting redundant here?

  9. teehov843 - Mar 17, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    Amen Mr. Jackson! Well Said!

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