Let there be no mistake.
Jerry West reached the mountain top both as a player and as a GM.
His beloved Los Angeles Lakers had suffered so many times at the hands of the Boston Celtics, it seemed that once the purple got a little momentum behind them, they were going to ride it like a tsunami.
And that’s how most NBA fans remember the 1971-72 NBA season, as a tsunami of purple and gold.
The Lakers started the season 40-4.
In the middle they ran off a record 33 straight wins.
They finished the season with an unprecedented 69 wins against 13 losses.
They swept their way to the Eastern Conference Finals, making them 73-13.
Then they played Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Based on the Lakers history of losing one big game after another, most NBA insiders picked the Bucks to prevail. The Lakers, however, held the home-court advantage, and odds-makers made the purple 1 to 1.5 point favorites in the opening game.
Lakers fans and beat writers held their collective breath.
The purple were down only three at halftime, 37-34. Sadly for Jerry West and company, that was as close as it got. The Lakers were outscored 31-8 in the third quarter, and the sellout crowd at the Forum began to boo the home team for the rest of the game. The final score was 93-72 Bucks.
Chamberlain was 3-12 for 10 points, while Jerry West was 4-19 from the field. Gail Goodrich shot 2-14.
How’d Kareem do?
33 points on 14-26 shooting, while grabbing 18 boards and blocking 8 shots.
The Laker beat writers were outraged. A writer for the LA Times vowed not to watch another game, concluding that Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain were done.
The sun had shined all season on the purple, and yet here they were back in familiar territory, on the verge of an historic humiliation.
Mr. Clutch would need to dig down deep to make this one right.