California’s Other “Mr. Clutch” Plays in the Best 1-on-1 Game of the Summer

09.30.11 8 years ago

No disrespect to Jerry West, but when you haven’t played basketball in front of a crowd in over 35 years, even the most well-deserved nickname can be transferred to a younger generation.

So while those who watched West light up the NBA in the 1960s and ’70s with the L.A. Lakers might throw up a little at the thought of another California-based guard borrowing any parts of the “Mr. Clutch” moniker, they should understand it’s simply part of the game.

Izeah Bowman, a.k.a. “Clutch,” solidified his nickname on a national scale last year, when he was crowned champion of Red Bull’s King of the Rock 1-on-1 tournament. Back then, Bowman — a 6-4 guard who played pro ball in Spain and is a regular summer star in L.A.’s Drew League — ran through the KOTR field with crafty ball-handling, tough drives and one-hand floaters to take the grand prize.

This past weekend, Bowman was back on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay to defend his title.

But instead of facing only the best playground ballers on the West Coast, Bowman was now dealing with a KOTR tournament that has gone worldwide. Expanding its reach to faraway U.S. cities like New York, Miami and New Orleans, and international locales such as France, Germany and Lithuania, Red Bull had brought in an undeniably tougher bunch of contenders for its defending champ.

Bowman moved past his first two opponents without incident, but in the round of 16 he would line up across from Dalane Finley — a 6-5 active Navy man who played college ball at Texas Wesleyan and had punched his ticket to Alcatraz via the Norfolk, Va., qualifying tourney.

Outside of the few friends Finley had brought with him, and maybe some fellow DMV-area ballers who know his game, pretty much everybody at The Rock favored Bowman in this matchup. That it turned out to be the most competitive and most intense game of the night defined the unpredictable nature of the KOTR format.

Finley opened things up with a step-back jumper, setting the tone for what would be the kind of shooting display you don’t often see outdoors on a cold night.

Halfway through the five-minute contest, Finley was ahead 11-8 after hitting a three. Bowman, who had abandoned his usual Tony Parker-esque style and fallen head over heels into a shootout, answered with a three to tie it up. By now, about 95 percent of the crowd was focused on one court despite three other games going on at the same time.

Finley hit another three. Then Bowman hit another three. Bobbito Garcia was losing his mind on the microphone, test-driving playground nicknames and inventing new ways to say “Good shot.”

Now heading into Bowman’s preferred crunch time, Finley took the ball up top and created some space before draining another triple with a stroke on loan from Michael Redd.

With under a minute to go and trailing 17-14, Bowman was running out of time. His threes started to fall short, and even when he chased down his own rebounds he couldn’t convert. Finely hit a turnaround jumper to make it 19-14 and give himself enough cushion for the upset win.

“That’s my game,” Finley said of his long-range shooting performance. “That’s what I do. That’s what I did in college, that’s how I play in the Navy, that’s how I played in semi-pro ball. I knew I was playing the champion, but I didn’t know (Bowman) could shoot like that. He’s a great shooter.”

Though gracious after the loss, Bowman made a quick exit and caught a ferry off the island before he would’ve had to watch eventual KOTR winner Hugh Jones, a.k.a. “Baby Shaq,” claim the title that had once belonged to him. Finley went on to lose in the round of eight.

“That five minutes seems like 15 minutes,” Finley said, out of breath after his biggest win. “It was a crazy game. It’s all about stamina: Who has the biggest heart to finish the game?”

Does Bowman deserve the nickname? Are you cool with it?

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