It is a rare occasion in sports when a player from the losing team deserves the MVP award in a Finals series. It is nearly unheard of for that deserving player to actually receive the award. Jerry West and the Lakers came up two points short in the 1969 NBA Finals, but West was so brilliant that while his team didn’t end up with the big trophy he was still named the Most Valuable Player. Those sort of performances are why Jerry West basketball cards and memorabilia are still popular with collectors today.
Even in a franchise filled with stars from six decades, West remains a Hall of Fame standout and is regarded as one of the greatest guards of all-time.
Remarkable Finals Performance
Forty-five years ago, West faced a veteran Boston Celtics team with many options to try to contain him. West scored 53 points in Game 1 and the Lakers edged the Celts by a basket. The Lakers also won Game 2 with West delivering 41 points. The series shifted to Boston and the Celtics won Game 3, with West “held” to 24. Boston Garden was usually an invincible fortress for the Celtics, in Game 4 West went 10 for 10 on free throws and scored 40, but his team lost by a point.
It was back to California for an easy win and 39 points from West, followed by a return to Boston where the Lakers lost by nine with West dropping 26. West was at his best in Game 7, scoring 42, but in what was the last game for Russell and K.C. Jones, the Celtics won the title with a 108-106 victory.
Playing 43.9 minutes a game, West had averaged 37.9 points, 7.4 assists and 4.7 rebounds. In later years he had Gail Goodrich next to him in the backcourt to take on a lot of the scoring load but on the 1969 team West did it essentially all himself.
John Havlicek was brilliant too, with 28.3 points, 4.4 assists and 11 rebounds for Boston and Russell was also a force, but West led all players in the playoffs for total points, assists, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, as well as points per game.
Vintage Jerry West Cards
West played in the NBA from 1960-61 to 1973-74 and despite a dearth of cards in the first half of his career, he’s featured in Topps sets of the 1970s. Of course the biggest card a West collector could have is his rookie card. The 1961-62 Fleer set has West’s rookie card, #43, as well as the rookie cards of Chamberlain, Robertson, Baylor, Rodgers and Celtics K.C. and Sam Jones.
Sadly, there would be no more mainstream basketball cards until later in his career. Collectors should look to regional sets like Kahn’s for 1960s West cards until he returns as card #19 in the extremely rare 1968-69 Topps Test set.
His oversized cards in 1969-70 and 1970-71 Topps marked his return on bubble gum cards. For those who want some fun with their West collection, check out the1969-70 Topps Rulers insert. In 1970-71, there was also a West insert poster. He then appears on Topps cards until his retirement. Except for the highest graded cards, most latter career West cards are only a few dollars.
Modern Era Mr. Clutch Cards
Something to look for on his autographed cards is the “Mr. Clutch” inscription. He was called that for how he could take over a game in the final minute.
West collectors will find plenty of cards in 1996 Topps Stars, while Upper Deck included him in various sets like 1999-00 Upper Deck Retro and 1999-00 Upper Deck NBA Legends. His 2001-02 Upper Deck 15,000 Point Club Jersey card has a great design while there are different parallel refractors versions to collect of his 2007-08 Topps Finest card.
When Upper Deck exploded onto the NBA card scene in 1991-92 they had holograms and Jordan cards, and a Jerry West Heroes insert set. It is an inexpensive but educational set to collect and there are some autographed versions. The Heroes cards sell for under $1 and each card has a different topic about his career, with card #3 chronicling the 1969 NBA Finals MVP performance. In 1992-93, Upper Deck produced the Jerry West Selects insert set. As the title suggests, West personally selected players for different criteria. His Best All-Around was Jordan. Best Defender, Jordan again. Best shooter, Jordan. Best Clutch Player, Jordan. There are 16 other cards that don’t have Jordan, however. West also liked Tim Hardaway and Dikembe Mutombo while Magic Johnson had three cards in the set.
A Model Player
West was not only a role model for those playing basketball, in 1965 he was also a plastic model kit. Made by Aurora, the Jerry West Great Moments In Sport “all-plastic assembly kit” can be valued at $400 for sealed examples while there is even a market for kits that have been put together.
Of course the few number of game-worn West items from his playing days bring big bucks on the few occasions they come to market. An autographed early 60’s West jersey sold for $96,000 in September 2012.
Being the only NBA Finals MVP on a losing team is just one reason to collect Jerry West basketball cards and memorabilia, but if you’ve got an NBA logo, you’ve got Jerry—his silhouette preserved for all-time as the image of the NBA.
You can see hundreds of West items on eBay here.