Monday, June 18, 2012

In the Clutch: Perception Vs Reality

adj; informal
1. Being or occurring in a tense or critical situation
2. Tending to be successful in tense or critical situations

The term “clutch” has become infused into sports jargon as a means to separate the elite from the average. Clutch represents greatness, success, and legacy. It is attached to those who nail the game winning fade away, throw the overtime touchdown, or hit the go ahead double in the ninth. Clutch is not only an inherent symbol of our athletic heroes, but it also lends legitimacy to those who are perceived to have this ability whether it is warranted or not.This is where the problem lies.

Clutch is merely a perception of our own opinions, biases, and lack of true sports knowledge. There exists no empirical scientific evidence to support the claim that some players are “more clutch” than others. Sports heroes are judged on their perceived abilities to maintain and preserve their legacy. Jordan, Tiger, Jeter, and Montana. All winners. All legends. All clutch right?


For the sake of this article lets examine the sport of basketball and its greatest clutch performer.

Did Michael Jordan come through in the clutch in every game? Most games? No and no. He merely is perceived as being clutch as opposed to truly exhibiting this trend over a significant period of time. Clutch is a pattern or an inherent ability. In his career with the Chicago Bulls from 1984-1998 Jordan recorded 25 game winning baskets ( Basics 2001).  In 12 seasons with the Bulls Jordan hit 25 “clutch” baskets. That is roughly an average of 2 per season. By this standard does it mean that if you hit 2 game winning baskets per year then you are considered clutch? Does 2 clutch plays a year make you great? Are you “more clutch” than someone who only makes 1 game winner a year?

Jordan is mythologized as the embodiment of clutch. If LeBron James made 2 game winning baskets next season would you consider him to be Michael Jordan’s equal? You would not.

The aura surrounding this ability has been reinforced through 24/7 high light reels and in the minds of sports viewers. What we perceive is not always reality. If we as a sports community conclude that 2 game winning baskets per season is defined as clutch, then that is something we must take into consideration for the sake of logic and argument.

Until then, clutch is a myth. Basics. How Many Has Michael Made?. (2001). Retrieved from


  1. I just wanna put it on the record that I disagree entirely. Clutch doesn't JUST mean GW shots. It means scoring when the game is close, or when it is an insanely important game. You need more stats.

  2. Well it does put into perspective how we view Lebron James. People criticize Lebron for not being clutch because he hasn't hit but one game winner in the playoffs yet he has been outstanding throughout entire games. He hit the game tying three aganst the Celtics in, I believe game 3, but still people criticized him for not being clutch for passing up the shot on the last possession. You're Absolutely right Ryan, clutch doesn't just mean Game Winning shots....and that's what this article proved. MJ was one of the most "clutch" players in the NBA but not just because he hit 25 GW was having huge numbers in big games, something James has also been doing.