Historical Pro Basketball 1963-67

SWC75

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This is a continuation of a series I was doing last spring and summer that covered the history of pro basketball from 1925-1963. Prior posts in the series:
https://syracusefan.com/search/37305428/?q=Historical+Pro+Basketball&o=date&c[title_only]=1&c[node]=11&c[user][0]=289

1963-67

SINK THE CELTICS

1963-64


One of the more popular war movies of the early 60’s was “Sink the Bismarck” about the combined efforts to sink the biggest German battleship:

The Celtics had won 5 NBA titles in a row from 1959=63, tying the all-time records of the New York Yankees (1949-53) and Montreal Canadiens (1956-60) for the longest run of championships in north American sports, (the Green Bay Packers had won the NFL title from 1929-31 and would win in 1965-67 as well). A sport needs a definition of excellence and the Celtics were providing it. Their team excellence and Wilt Chamberlain’s individual amazingness was pushing the sport to unprecedented popularity.

Maurice Podloff, the only commissioner the league had ever had, retired and was replaced by his former assistant, (now Mayor of Stamford, Connecticut) Walter Kennedy, who inherited a prosperous league.
It was also a changing league. The Syracuse Nationals had become the Philadelphia 76ers, although they were still coached by Dolph Schayes in his last year as a player and were full of former Nats, who played the aggressive, team-oriented style they became famous for in the Salt City. The expansion Chicago Packers never got quite coordinated with the Black Hawks for the use of Chicago Stadium and moved to Baltimore to became the new version of the Bullets, (who are now the Washington Wizards).

But the rest of league was not satisfied to play a bit part in the Celtic’s highlight films. They wanted to “Sink the Celtics”. Talent was pouring out of the college ranks every year and the big news for the 1963-64 season was that Jerry Lucas, who had led Ohio State to three straight NCAA championship games, was joining Oscar Robertson in Cincinnati to give the Royals a great 1-2 punch. Wilt Chamberlain, playing in San Francisco for the Warriors, was joined by another towering big man, Nate Thurmond. They also had a new coach, Alex Hannum, who began to talk with Wilt about scoring less and getting his teammates more involved while focusing on defense, has Russell had been doing. Wilt’s scoring only fell from 44.8pp to 36.9, (which still led the league by 5 ½ points), but Hannum had begun something which would bear fruit.

The Celtics were themselves facing uncertainty. Bob Cousy had retired and some people felt that he was the real key to the Celtic’s success. A fan came up to Bill Russell and told him “You’d better hustle now that you don’t have Cousy to carry the team.” Russell, the league MVP the previous three years in a row, steamed. The Celtics were trying to do the hardest thing in sports: rebuild while still winning. Cousy was gone. Bill Sharman was gone. Tom Heinsohn was in the 7th year of a 9 year career. Frank Ramsey was in the last year of a 10 year career. Replacing those players would be Tom “Satch” Sanders, a sort of 6-6 version of Russell but who never was the scorer or rebounder Heinsohn was, John Havlicek who started out as the league’s stop “6th man” as Ramsey had been but would become the team’s offensive star. Doctor’s discovered that Havlicek’s lung capacity was half again as much as an average players, (they needed to x-ray them twice to get them all in the picture), which allowed him to play full out for entire games and just run defenders off the court. Sam Jones took over as the team’s shooting guard. He was tall, (6-4 compared to Sharman, who was listed at 6-1) and who was the best I’ve ever seen at banking a shot off the glass. He didn’t do it accidentally- he knew, like a pool shark, where the ball would go if the kissed it off a certain spot on the blackboard. It made his shots unblockable because he didn’t have to shoot directly at the basket. K. C. Jones, (No relation), had been with Russell at USF when they won two NCAA titles and, although he never scored in double figures, he was the league’s best defensive guard and knew how to run the famous Celtics fast break.

Then there was Russell, who had a teeth-clenching determination to show people the Celtics – and he- could without Cousy. He went on to have what he considered his greatest season. He averaged 15 points, (he was never a big scorer) and 25 rebounds a game. If there was a record for blocks, he’d probably still hold it, (it didn’t become an official statistic until a decade later). They augmented their swarming half-court defense with a relentless press.

The team also picked up some depth with the well-travelled Clyde Lovelette and Willie Naulls. When Naulls was in for Havlicek, the Celtics became the first teams to have all five players on the court be African-American. From “The Picture History of the Boston Celtics by George Sullivan”: “It was no big deal”, (Red) Auerbach says now. “I didn’t even think about it at the time. I just did it. No there was no negative reaction by anyone around the league.” Typical of the Celtic attitude, the players joked about it. In one game, Auerbach substituted Frank Ramsey for Naulls and the former Kentucky star scored a couple of quick baskets. The opposing team called a time out and the five Celtics on the court strolled over to join Auerbach and their teammates in a huddle by the Boston bench. “Well, Red”, Ramsey drawled, “It looks like I’m the Great White Hope.” The Celtics huddle broke up in laughter and Boston garden fans wondered what was so funny in the middle of a game.

The Celtics roared to a 59-21 record, their second best ever but just four games ahead of the Royals who had their second best record at 55-25, (the 1950 Royals had gone 51-17 back in Rochester in 1950). They dispatched the 76ers 3-2 in the semi-finals but were no match for Boston, 1-4, in the eastern finals. The Celtics won all of their four games by double figures. The Warrior had beaten out the Hawks and the Lakers in the west and now Russell and Chamberlain would meet in not the Eastern finals but the NBA finals. No matter. The Celtics also beat them in 5 games to win a record 6th straight championship – and to do it without Cousy and with a sometimes all black line-up.

Here are the Celtics winning the closest game of the series, 98-95 in San Francisco, with commentary by Marty Glickman:
1964 NBA Finals Gm. 4 Celtics vs. Warriors (3/3)


1964-65

The Celtics continued to roll in 1965, achieving their best record of the entire Bill Russell run with 62 wins and only 18 losses. It still wasn’t the best record in NBA history: the Syracuse Nationals had gone 51-13 in a 17 team league bloated with former BAA and NBL teams, many of which weren’t very good. The Celtics did it in a 9 team league at a time when the sport was really starting to blossom.

Out in San Francisco, the Warriors fell apart. The “twin towers” thing with Chamberlain and Thurmond wasn’t working, (it rarely does) and west coast writers and fans were not warming to Chamberlain, 9as they didn’t Willie Mays, either). Owner Franklin Mieuli decided the time had come to unload Chamberlain’s salary and see what they could get for him. They wound up send g him back to Philadelphia for guard Paul Neumann, (two ‘n’s), center Commie Dierking and guard lee Shaffer, who was holding out and decided not to sign with the Warriors and simply retire from the league, (players did that in those days because they weren’t getting rich. The Warriors tumbled to a dismal 17-63 record.

I remember when Wilt was traded: the deal was consummated at the All-star game and I recall our local TV station in Syracuse announced it with what passed for a graphic in those primitive days: The cut a picture of Wilt out of the newspaper, pasted it to a blackboard and pointed their camera at it.
On This Day In Sports: January 13,1965: The Sixers Trade For Wilt

The 76er’s had an enviable team, talent-wise, still coached by the now retired Dolph Schayes and featuring several former Nats: Johnny Kerr, Chet Walker, Hal Greer, Larry Costello and Dave Gambee. They also had a brawny power forward in 6-9 240 Luke Jackson. Chamberlain didn’t immediately fit in and the best the Sixers could do was a 40-40 record, 22 games behind the Celtics and 8 games behind the Royals but the potential of the team was clear. The dispatched the Royals in 4 games and set up a classic series with the Celtics.

The two teams alternated wins in their home arena for the six games: The Celtics won by 10, 18 and 6 points in Boston while the Sixers won by 6, by 3 in OT, (an amazing 134-131 game in which Hal Greer hit a disputed 35 footer at the buzzer to send the game into OT), and 6 in Philly. In the famous game 7 in Boston, the Celts blew out to a 30-12 lead but the Sixers went on a 50-31 run to take a one point halftime lead and then scored the first two baskets of the second half. A “growling Auerbach called a time out and spent it lecturing his team. And they went on a 29-16 run to take an 8 point lead into the final period. The Celtics led by 7, 110-103 with a minute left and Red lighted up his “victory cigar”, a practice the other coaches in the league hated. Red’s response was to ask them to put out their cigarettes when they win games. But this time, Red almost had to put his cigar out.

From “The Picture History of the Boston Celtics”: “The Celtics grew cautious, trying to avoid three point plays, and allowed Chamberlain 6 straight points punctuated by an uncontested dunk to cut the Celtic’s lead to 1 point with 5 seconds remaining. The Sixers pressed desperately as Russell took the ball out of bounds, just to the right of the Celtic basket. Harassed, the 6-10 Russell backed up a half-step and jumped as he tried to inbound the ball with both arms upstretched over his head. The ball travelled only inches before striking a guy wire overhead and caroming out of bounds….Russell was still beneath the guy wire but now was kneeling on the one knee, pounding the floor with his fist and repeating “Oh, my God!...Oh my God”…I’ll always remember Russell walking over to the huddle”, (trainer) Buddy LeRoux recalls. “he just looked at all the others and said, “Somebody bail me out. I blew it.” Satch Sanders: Nobody knew what to do. Russell came over shaking his head and saying “I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe it”. Nobody wanted to believe that something as simple as that could put us in that kind of positon. It was like nightmare.”

“If the Boston bench was in shock, the Philadelphia bench was in chaos. Iit was crazy”, Schayes says now. “Everybody was trying to make up a play. Everybody was yakking and screaming and talking at once. I said “Hold it. We only have a few seconds left. Let me talk.” Philadelphia’s main options were clear: 1) get the ball to Chamberlain close to the basket for a stuff, even if he was fouled while shooting, he’d have three shots to make 1 for a tie and 2 for the victory; 2) Get the ball to Greer for a quick outside shot with Wilt underneath to guide the ball in if necessary and with the 7-2 Chamberlain, 6-9 Jackson and 6-9 Kerr crashing the boards for any rebound or 3) Get the ball outside to Walker, who could thread the ball to Chamberlain or Greer, whichever which ever was open or if both were covered he could drive himself. Schayes first thought was Chamberlain: “Go to Wilt and let him power to the basket. But I knew they would have grabbed him and he wasn’t the best foul shooter.” Sanders: “We would have mangled Wilt”, who was only 5 of 13 from the line that night. So Schayes decided to go to Option 2. Greer would inbound the ball deep to Walker outside. Kerr would set a pick on K.C. Jones at the baseline. Greer would slip in behind the screen, take a return pass from Walker and put up a quick one-hander form the corner.”

“As Chamberlain and Russell jousted for positon beneath the basket, Greer hesitated before finally lobbing the ball toward Walker about 25 feet away….”He was being harassed”, Schayes recalled, “The moment the ball left his hands, I knew it was gone. I knew it was going to be grabbed.” Greer: “I didn’t put enough on the ball. That’s all there is to it. I just didn’t put enough on it.” John Havlicek: “I knew he had 5 seconds to inbound so I started counting 1,001, 1,002, 1,003. Usually something happens by then. So by 1003 ½ I started to peek a little more. Havlicek turned his head in time to see the ball arching toward Walker. Hondo coiled, leaped into the air and….”

Johnny Most:
1965 Eastern Finals: "Havlicek Stole the Ball"

Here’s a mini-documentary on the end of that game:
Havlicek Stole the Ball – 50 Year Anniversary

The Celtics then faced a cripple Laker team in anti-climactic final, winning 5 games. But Jerry provided something to chewer for. His fellow Lakers superstar, Elgin Baylor, had had a devastating knee injury in the first round of the plays against Baltimore and was never really the same player again. Jerry put the tram on his back and scored 49, 52, 44, 48, 43 and 42 points to get his team past the Bullets. He then scored 26, 45, 43, 37 and 33 points against the Celtics. It wasn’t enough but that came to a 40.6 average for the playoffs with the defense fully concentrating on him. Fred Schaus, the Laker’s coach: “K. C. Jones used to tackle West rather than letting him get off a jump shot.” Even Wilt had never scored that month per game in the playoffs and he was getting almost all his points in the paint against smaller men. Jerry at 6-3 had no big size advantage and had to score from wherever he could get a shot off. It was the beginning of his transformation from a well-respected player to a legend and the model for the NBA’s logo.


1965-66

For 1965-66, the Sixers would have Wilt Chamberlain for the whole season and the co-ordination with his teammates began to fall into place. They signed Wilt to the first $100,000 contract in NBA history, whereupon the Red Auerbach singed Bill Russell to a contract for $100,001, (which Bill had demanded). Boston took the early lead in the standings and kept it until March, when the two teams met in a home and home series. The Sixers swept both games, 102-85 at home and 113-110 in Boston, and won 18 of their last 21, including 11 in a row to end the regular seasons. They dethroned the Celtics as the eastern regular season champions by a game, 55-25 to 54-26, ending a stretch of 9 straight seasons in which the Boston had been atop the eastern standings. This got Philadelphia a bye during which the sat and watched the Celtics won a tough 5 game series form the third place Royals after losing 2 of the first 3.

Everybody braced for another great series between the Sixers and Celtics but Philadelphia’s mojo had evaporated in that idle week while the Celtics were revved up by their comeback against the Royals (It’s why I’ve always hated byes: they often work to the disadvantage of the idle team). The Celtics won the first game in Philadelphia by 19, then routed them by 21 in Boston. The Sixers pulled together for a 12 point in Philly , then lost a tough 110-114 overtime game in Beantown. The Celtics polished off their rivals 120-112 in the Philadelphia to advance to the finals for the 10th straight year. There they faced a determined Laker team that was sick of losing to the Celtics. They beat the Celtics in overtime at the Boston Garden 133-129. West had 41 and a suddenly rejuvenated Baylor, (who had averaged only 16.6ppg during the year: Elgin said he was at best 75% of the player he had been before his injury), added 36.

It was at this time that Auerbach chose to make an announcement of something he’d already decided: he was going to retire as coach and that their new coach for the 1966-67 season would be Bill Russell, making him the first black coach of major league franchise in any North American sport. From the Illustrated History of Basketball by Larry Fox: “it was a master stroke. Russell, like Auerbach, was getting weary. The schedule never seemed to end. The road trips ran one into the other in an endless succession of airports and hotel rooms. Russell was thinking of quitting, too, so Auerbach decided to give his aging star new incentive. Many times Bill had handled the team in workouts when Auerbach’s duties as general manager had prevented him from being present. He had also served as coach in games when Auerbach was banished from the floor by the officials. Auerbach knew Russell as an astute basketball mind and, more important, as the acknowledged team leader.”

Boston roared back with 3 straight wins but the Lakers answered them with two wins of their own, the first featuring a throw-back game by Elgin Baylor, who scored 41 points, setting up a dramatic seventh game back in the Garden. “Auerbach took note of the emotions surrounding his last game as Celtic coach but, typically, his approach was ultra-professional. He reminded his players of the monetary difference between winning and losing. “I want you to win this one for you, not for me.”, he told them.”

“The Celtics roared onto the court to do just that. They scored the first ten points of the game against the stunned Lakers and led by as many as nineteen points in the opening minute of the second half. Going into the final quarter, the score was 76-60 but the Lakers hadn’t gotten as far as they had by quitting. With four minutes left the Boston lead was down to 13 points, then to 7. The Celtics led by 8 in the final minute, then Russell scored to make it 10. Only sixteen seconds remained when Jerry West hit a jump shot to cut the margin to 8 again but now Auerbach knew there was an insurmountable ally on his side – the clock.”

“For years, Auerbach, had enjoyed the habit of lighting up a ‘victory cigar’ on the bench whenever another Celtic triumph was assured. The gesture infuriated his opponents, which was the general idea. The league office didn’t like it, either., which was even better. And so, with 16 seconds to go, Auerbach stuck the long cigar in his mouth and John Volpe, the Governor of Massachusetts gave him a light. Although the Lakers managed to close to two points at the buzzer, Auerbach didn’t miss a puff.”

Actually, the Lakers closed to within 93-95 with 4 seconds left – just one fewer than the Sixer had had the year before - and the Boston fans rushed the court. Per “The NBA Finals, a 50 year Celebration” by Roland Lazenby, “The fans always rushed the floor to celebrate a Boston championship. The earlier the better, it seemed. The ’66 celebration was both pre-mature and out of hand. Russell, who had played with a broken foot and had still gotten32 rebounds, was knocked down. Orange Juice containers on the Boston bench were spilled across the floor and Satch Sanders lost his shirt to the crowd. Somehow, K. C. Jones got the inbounds pass to Havlicek, who dribbled out the clock for the championship….Schaus later said that he would have loved to have been able to shove that victory cigar down Auerbach’s throat. “W came awfully close to putting that thing out.”

“The Picture History of the Boston Celtics” has two shots from the wild final moments. Auerbach, clenching his cigar in his teeth, is surrounded by fans as a policeman gets shoved out of the way. One smiling fan has his hands about Red’s neck. The other is of the final inbounds play, with Jones having just inbounded the ball from a narrow crevice made in the hoard of fans for that purpose. He looks like a golfer who hit is drive into the crown and now has to hit a shot through a narrow corridor of people. The court is surrounded by several layers of fans just about to re-storm the court when the final buzzer sounds. The picture clearly shows that Sam Jones inbounded the ball to KC, who must have gotten the ball to Havlicek a moment alter.

That volume says that the crowd was a problem even before they stormed the court: ”I never came closer to disaster” Auerbach would note later. The sight of Auerbach lighting up ignited the crowd and it went wild now, surging onto the court the court.” Johnny Most: “Havlicek called time out because he couldn’t get the ball in play. The crowd has surged down the end line. They can’t finish the ball game. They can’t get the ball in play. The crowd in its delirium and joy has thrown things onto the court. Red Auerbach is being mobbed by fans…officials are asking the crowd to please pull back. The crowd wants to get these guys and hug ‘em. …Auerbach has implored the crowd to step back and let them get the ball in play. I have never seen anything like this. The fans are on the supports of the baskets.”

“Shooed back by John Havlicek, Sam Jones and other Celtic players, spectators still crowded around the Celtic Bench and, at times Auerbach had to jump up to see over their heads. What he saw, unbelievably, was Celtic turnovers – four of them as the Boston lead dwindled to 95-91 with six seconds to go as Laker Leroy Ellis, (LeRon’s Daddy) took a jump shot. “It’s good!” Most screamed. Four seconds left and the lead is down to two points. Ellis’ basket pulled the plug on crowd noise and an eerie hush fell over the Garden.” This book does not say the court storming came at this point. Johnny most: “ K.C. with the ball gets surrounded. One second. That’s it. It’s all over! Havlicek got the pass and he gets mobbed! It’s all over!” At this point, “Auerbach was hoisted onto shoulders amid a sea of bobbing heads and transported to the Celtic locker room for the traditional dunking in the showers. “I feel drunk and I haven’t even had a drink.” It was their eight straight championship, still the all-time record in major league professional sports and likely to remain so, and their 9th in 10 years.

The truth can be seen here:
Lakers vs Celtics 1966 NBA Finals Game 7 Highlights – April 28th, 1966
There doesn’t seem to have been any premature storming.


1966-67

The disappointing performance of the 76ers in the 1966 eastern cost Dolph Schayes his job. The new coach was Alex Hannum, who in San Francisco had gotten Wilt to start thinking in terms of defense, and making his teammates better, in other words playing more like Bill Russell. The Big Dipper responded with his worst scoring season to date (24.1 – still 5th in the league and far above Russell’s 13.3)) but led the league in rebound by a wide margin (24.3 to 21.3 for Nate Thurmond and 21.0 for Russell) and was 3rd in assists (7.8: Russell had 5.8). Blocked shots were not kept track of yet but Wilt started learning to tip those shots to his teammates rather than dramatically rocket them out of bounds. The team scored 125.2 points per game, second all-time to the 1961-62 Warriors who scored 125.4. That was the year Wilt scored 50.4 per game. The 1967 team scored virtually as much with Wilt scoring 24.1 per game. And they only gave up 115.8 ppg, compared to 122.7 in 1962. The Sixers 9.4 margin of victory was higher than any previous team.
His teammates included Hal “High Gear” Greer, who averaged 22ppg, Chet Walker, who averaged 19, rookie Billy Cunningham, who averaged 18, guard Wally Jones, who averaged 13 and big Luke Jackson, who averaged 12 and 9 rebounds a game. Everybody on the team was peaking at the right time.

The result has an historical season. The Sixers won 45 of their first 49 games on their way to the best record in NBA history to that point, 68-13. They beat the Celtics out by 8 games even though Boston, under Bill Russell’s guidance, improved to 60-21 and beat the Sixers 5 times in 9 games. Meanwhile, out west, the Warriors had rebuilt around Rick Barry, who broke Chamberlain’s personal streak of 7 consecutive league scoring titles with 35.6ppgg. Ex-Celtic Bill Sharman was their coach. They won the west with a modest 44-37 record. The NBA had added a tenth team, a third attempt to get something going in Chicago. This one was called the Bulls and their first coach was the old Syracuse Nat, Johnny Kerr. It meant that there would be no more byes in the playoffs. The top four teams in each division would make it, (that’s 80% of the league).

The Sixers lost their opening playoff game at home to Cincinnati 116-120, which must have caused some grumbling. But the Sixers hut the door on the Royals, winning by 21, 15 and 18 points. Then they crunched the Celtics in the opener of that series, 127-113. They overcame early Celtic leads to win the next two games 107-102 and 115-104, wearing down the old champs. The proud Celts rose up to win game four in Boston 121-117 but they were no match for the Sixers in the finale losing 140-116, in a game that really seemed to be the passing of the torch from one dynasty to another. Wilt had 29 points, 36 rebounds and 13 assists in the final game. Bill had 4-21-7. Bill entered the Sixers locker room after the game, walked up to Wilt, grasped his hand and said “Great”. Wilt responded “Right” and Bill left. That’s all they needed. Russell told reporters: The best way to be a good loser is to shut up.”

The mighty Sixers then took on the feisty Warriors for the title. The built up a big lead in the first game in Philly before a less than capacity crowd, (Hey! We beat the Celtics – aren’t we already the champs?). But they lost all of it and almost the game in regulation. Chamberlain blocked a shot by Thurmond at the end of regulation. Nate thought he was fouled but didn’t get the call and Philadelphia won 141-135 in overtime. The crushed the Warriors 126-95 in game two, also in Philadelphia. The Warriors won 130-124 in San Francisco thanks to a 55 point explosion by Barry. Per “The NBA Finals: A Fifty Year Celebration”: “Hannum through, wasn’t worried. The Warriors had worked to get 20 and 25 foot shots . he didn’t think they could win the series that wat.” They didn’t. Barry got 43 in the next game but Hal Freer scored 38 and Chet Walker 33 in a 122-106 win where Philly won every quarter. Back in Philadelphia, Barry scored 26 in the first half but the Sixers still led 96-84 going into a fourth quarter in which they shot 3 for 17 and somehow lost 109-117.

But they found the basket in San Francisco and closed out the series there with a 125-122 win. “the first quarter was a 43-41 shoot-out. The Warriors owned a 102-86 lead at the end of three. The score was 106-102 when the rookie (Matt, whose namesake father was on the 1947 Philadelphia Warrior team that won the first BAA title), Goukas came in, hit a 20 footer, then followed with a driving lay-up. There, he was knocked into a basket support and out of the game. But his two buckets had fired the turn-around. “Gook!...Gook!...The Rook showed us how!”, Chamberlain would crow afterward in the locker room.” The Sixers clamped down on defense and held the Warriors to 19 fourth quarter points. Cunningham scored 13 himself to lead his team to victory. Barry scored 44 but couldn’t overcome the Philadelphia’s balance as six Sixers scored in double figures and Goukas had 9 points before knocking himself out.

I remember I had rooted for them and Wilt to finally beat out Russell and the Celtics for what seemed to a child to be forever and it had finally happened.

1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers - World Champions

But the Bismarck was still afloat.
 

SWC75

Bored Historian
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NET POINTS
(Points, rebounds and assists minus missed field goals, missed free throws and personal fouls- steals, blocks and turnovers not yet kept track of.)

1963-64
Wilt Chamberlain, San Francisco 3386 (44.1)
Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati 2813 (37.9)
Bill Russell, Boston 2474 (34.1)
Bob Pettit, St. Louis 2293 (33.4)
Walt Bellamy, Baltimore 2287 (32.3)
Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati 2101 (30.8)
Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles 1894 (28.7)
Jerry West, Los Angeles 1793 (29.6)
Johnny Kerr, Philadelphia 1642 (26.8)
Bailey Howell, Detroit 1577 (28.0)

1964-65
Wilt Chamberlain, SF-Philadelphia 2819 (41.0)
Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati 2607 (36.6)
Bill Russell, Boston 2453 (34.0)
Walt Bellamy, Baltimore 2133 (31.0)
Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati 2047 (34.3)
Jerry West, Los Angeles 1908 (29.9)
Nate Thurmond, San Francisco 1750 (26.5)
Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles 1737 (27.3)
Bailey Howell, Baltimore 1616 (26.1)
Willis Reed, New York 1596 (25.2)

1965-66
Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 3444 (44.2)
Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati 2540 (34.9)
Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati 2385 (32.6)
Bill Russell, Boston 2200 (31.2)
Jerry West, Los Angeles 2225 (33.2)
Walt Bellamy, New York Knicks 2078 (29.8)
Rick Barry, San Francisco 1741 (27.9)
Zelmo Beatty, St. Louis 1703 (26.6)
Nate Thurmond, San Francisco 1575 (26.2)
Guy Rodgers, San Francisco 1398 (23.3)

1966-67
Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia 3546 (46.2)
Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati 2549 (35.3)
Bill Russell, Boston 2332 (34.0)
Jerry Lucas, Cincinnati 2218 (29.9)
Rick Barry, San Francisco 2185 (33.0)
Nate Thurmond, San Francisco 1813 (31.5)
Willis Reed, New York 1805 (30.7)
Walt Bellamy, New York 1764 (28.1)
Jerry West, Los Angeles 1743 (31.3)
Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles 1716 (30.4)

Top Ten for 1963-67 (10 points for finishing first in net points, 9 for second, etc.)
Wilt Chamberlain 40
Oscar Robertson 36
Bill Russell 31
Jerry Lucas 26
Walt Bellamy 21
Jerry West 16
Nate Thurmond 11
Rick Barry 10
Elgin Baylor 8
Bob Pettit 7

HISTORICAL TOP TEN after 1967
Dolph Schayes 93
Bob Pettit 81
Wilt Chamberlain 80
Bill Russell 79
George Mikan 72
Bobby McDermott 65
Neil Johnston 61
Oscar Robertson 59
Leroy Edwards 58
Benny Borgmann 57


THE PLAYERS

The new stars in this period, (as ranked in the period Top Ten) were:

JERRY LUCAS was a guy with broad perspectives and it helped him survive the first highly publicized recruiting war and the pressures stardom at Ohio State and in the NBA. A 6-9 240 center-forward, he led Middletown High in Ohio, (you can’t get more “middle American” than that), to 76 straight wins and two state championships. He had 150 recruiting offers, resulting in some crazy attempts to lure him. One time he’d gone to bed late at night and heard a tapping on his window. He pulled the curtain back and saw a man motioning him to open the window. It turned out to be a college recruiter on a ladder trying to get a word with him. He eventually went to Ohio State but did so on an academic scholarship in case he got hurt playing basketball: the coaches couldn’t take away his scholarship.

There was never any chance of that. He was a star on a team of stars, along with John Havlicek and Larry Siegfried, who became part of the Celtic dynasty, Joe Roberts, Mel Nowell and a reserve named Bobby Knight. They were the favorites to win the national championship every year of his varsity career and they would have done it except that the University of Cincinnati seemed to have their number, upsetting them in overtime in the 1961 finals and in regulation the next year. The one title they did win, (still the Buckeye’s only basketball title), in his sophomore year, crushing defending national champion California 75-55.

He didn’t automatically go the NBA from college. He signed with George Steinbrenner’s Cleveland Pipers of the ABL because he offered more money. Unfortunately, the league folded. It was personal services contract so Jerry still got paid but did not play basketball in 1962-63. No other plyer was probably better equipped to deal with a year off from basketball. He had many other interests, including learning, memorizing things and analyzing was to do it and magic.

Then he signed with the Cincinnati Royals and joined their star, Oscar Robertson, who was not entirely welcoming. When Jerry complained he wasn’t getting the ball enough, Oscar told him to “get it off the backboard”. And he did, averaging as much as 21 rebounds a game for a season and 16 for his career. In many ways, he was the heir to Bob Pettit as the league’s top power forward. He didn’t score as much as Pettit because Robertson was the Royals’ #1 option but he had all the shots: he could score anywhere from 30 feet in. he could drive to the basket to score. He had a great hook shot. He could maneuver around the bigger men inside. And he could crash the boards with the best of them. But like Wilt Chamberlain in Philadelphia, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West in Los Angeles and Pettit in St. Louis, the individual star power of Lucas and Robertson in Cincinnati wasn’t enough to overpower the team strength of the Celtics.

One of those Celtics, Bob Cousy, was hired to coach the Royals, with disastrous results. He didn’t like the way Robertson was running the offense and activated himself, (at age 41, after being a coach six years), to show him how to do it. He thought Lucas was lazy- unwilling to get on the floor for loose balls - and numbers oriented. The team fell apart and Lucas was traded to San Francisco, where he was miserable. Then he was traded back east to the Knicks, where he fit in with an intellectual team that a Rhodes scholar like Bill Bradley, former player-coach Dave DeBusschere and future coaching legend Phil Jackson. Then there was the flashy backcourt of Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. This team won the east and played the record-setting 69-13 Lakers in the final and lost in five games. They came back the next years and upset the nearly-as-good 68-14 Celtics in the eastern finals and then shocked the Lakers in five games to win the franchise’s second title in four years, (and last to date). But it was the win that gave Jerry Lucas the grand Slam of basketball: two state titles in high school, an Olympic Gold Medal, a college national championship and an NBA title. He was later named one of the 50 greatest players of all time.

His stats:
Jerry Lucas Stats | Basketball-Reference.com

Jerry Lucas on ESPN’s “Sports Century”:


JERRY WEST already had a very productive career going when this period began but really exploded in 1965 playoffs when he averaged 40.6 for 11 games. That was the highest playoff average in NBA history until Michael Jordan averaged 43.7 in 1986. West is still #2 after all these years, (Rick Barry is the only other 40ppg guy but that was in the ABA and he was 40.1). And Jordan only played 3 post season games in 1986 and his Bulls were getting swept by the Celtics: 49, 63 and 19. The 63 point game was Michael’s coming out as a superstar rather than a talented young player but the Celtics still won that game 135-131. West in 1965 scored 49, 52, 44, 48, 43, 42, 26, 45, 43, 37 and 33 and his team won 5 of those games. And they did it without the guy who had been their star, Elgin Baylor, who had destroyed his knee 5 minutes into the first game of the playoffs. Jerry was now “the man” and he was one.

The sport was growing and developing and it was getting increasingly hard for a 6-2 175 guy to be a dominant player but West did it, averaging 30+ points four times and 27 for his career. At the beginning of his career he was a substantial rebounder, essentially a small forward: as high as 7.9 per game in his second year, (1961-62). As his career progressed he became more and more a guard and eventually a point guard: he led the league in assists with 9.7 in the great year of 1971-72, (ten years after his best rebounding year), when he finally won a championship. He was known as a master of playing the passing lanes. Just as Bill Russell would likely own every record for blocked shots if that was an official stat then, West would own the steals record. They finally made that an official stat in his last year, 1973-74, when Jerry could manage only 31 games. He had 81 steals in those 31 games, an average of 2.7, the same average the league leader, Larry Steele of Portland, a player 12 years younger. Per 48 minutes, West had 4.0 steals to 3.9 for Steele.

Jerry earned several nicknames: “Zeke from Cabin Creek” due to non-natives impressions of his native West Virginia; “Mr Outside” when Baylor was “Mr. Inside”; “Mr. Clutch” for making shots like this one, from the 1970 finals against the Knicks:
1970: Jerry West hits 60ft buzzer beater in Finals to send game to OT

….and, finally “The Logo” because the NBA decided to use his image for their symbol:
The story of the NBA logo | Logo Design Love

Jerry had a stellar career at the University of West Virginia, where the teams he played on went 81-12, achieved a #1 ranking at the end of the 1957-58 regular season with a 26-1 record and went to the title game the next year, losing by a single point to California in the final. This is “Final Four the Movie”:
Final Four the movie
Jerry talks about this loss at the 22:15 mark and says that “People think the best team always wins. It does not.” Jerry should know. He went on to lose 7 NBA finals before he finally won one. After his playing career was over he became the most successful general manger in the NBA, building the Lakers first into the “Showtime” dynasty of the 80’s and then Shaq-Kobe three-peaters of the early 2000’s before moving on to become the GM of the Memphis Grizzlies. Then in 2011 he became a minority owner of the Warriors as well as an executive board members and helped see them to current wave of success. He’s thus now been part of a lot of “best teams” that have won.

Two fun facts: Jerry’s college coach, Fred Schaus, got the Laker job the year Jerry was a rookie. He was Jerry’s coach for his entire collegiate career and the first 8 years of his pro career. And Jerry wore #44 out of an admiration for Jim Brown, who wore that number at Syracuse.

Jerry’s numbers:
Jerry West Stats | Basketball-Reference.com

ESPN Sports century:
Jerry West - ESPN Sportscentury Documentary


There are only two reasons NATE THURMOND isn’t famous today: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Nate” the great” was one of the greatest centers in basketball history and it took Russell and Chamberlain to overshadow him. If he were playing today, he’d be a superstar. A lythe 6-11 225 with muscular shoulders, he averaged over 20 points a game 5 times in a row, (Russell never did it once) and as much as 22.0 rebounds per game. Injuries cut him down after the first decade of his career and he wound up at 15.0 in both career stats but he was the first player ever to achieve a quadruple double with 22 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks and did so rather late in his career while playing for the Bulls. Alvin Robertson, Alvin Robertson?) Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson have done it since: Double (basketball) - Wikipedia
“The reason why [the quadruple-double] is such a hard thing to accomplish is because it requires a player to be completely dominant on both ends of the court without being too selfish—so he can get the assists—and without fouling out trying to block every shot or grab every rebound. A lot of guys can get the points, rebounds and assists, but it's the defensive stuff that messes everybody up. You have to love defense to get a quadruple-double. There's no way around it.” He also had the best rebounding game not by Russell or Chamberlain: 42, same as his uniform number. (If they had given him 56, he might have broken Chamberlain’s one game record of 55!)

A high school rival of Jerry Lucas, (Nate was from Akron, just like LeBron James and Nate’s high school teammate, Gus Johnson), he decided not to accept a scholarship to Ohio State because he figured he’d have bene playing behind Lucas. (I suspect Fred Taylor would have found a way to get them both in the game and even Cincinnati couldn’t have beaten them). Instead, he went to Bowling Green, where he averaged 18 points and 17 rebounds over a three year career. He was drafted by the Warriors, who already had Chamberlain. He was able to blossom once Wilt went east and became the Warrior’s starting center for a decade. He was second to Chamberlain for MVP in 1966-67. Nate and Rick Barry gave the mighty Sixers some s cares in the final but were finally subdued in 6 games.

Nate never did play on a championship team, being traded to the Bulls just prior to the Warrior’s 1975 title. The quadruple double was his first game with the Bulls. He then joined the Cleveland Cavaliers in time for their 1976 run to the eastern finals against the Celtics. He retired the next year. He owned a San Francisco restaurant for many years called “Nate’s BBQ”.

His numbers: Nate Thurmond Stats | Basketball-Reference.com

A tribute on the occasion of his death in 2016:
Remembering Nate Thurmond


Being a great player and a beloved one are two different things. Just ask RICK BARRY. Rick was certainly a great player, (just ask Rick), but he “I was never the most popular player because I never went out to make friends. I went out to win games.” And to make money. Rick was the first NBA star to jump to the new ABA and anticipated Curt Flood by challenging the reserve clause, two years before Flood did it in baseball. In that sense he was a pioneer. But Rick was always about Rick. He kept changing teams, showing no loyalty to any of the franchises he played for or the cities he played in, although not all the changes were his idea. He was critical of teammates. He fought with fans, (one hit him with her pocketbook and he punched her husband). Teammate Butch Beard: “He complained about every call or claimed he was fouled every time he missed a shot. Rick’s demeanor on the court probably turned a lot of people off but it seemed to part of who he was.”

Per “The NBA Finals: A Fifty Year Celebration”, “His confidence had a quality that didn’t endear him to opponents around the league. His every step seems a swagger. His game was steeped with an air of hauteur.” His talents didn’t endear him to opponents around the league, either. He’d had a great college career at the University of Miami, averaging 29.8ppg for his career and 16.5 rebounds despite his skinny 6-7 200 frame. In his senior season, he led the country in scoring with 37.4ppg and 18.3rpg. He also managed to marry the coach’s daughter.

The Warriors drafted him and he was Rookie of the year with 25.7ppg and 10.6rpg. It caused Laker’s coach Fred Shaus, to compare him to Bob Pettit, who was two inches taller but had also been a bit skinny coming out of college. In his second year, he improved dramatically even over that by leading the league with 35.6ppg and 9.2rpg and leading the warriors to the finals against those mighty 76’s, in which Rick scored 37-30-55-43-36 and 44 points. He was a handsome, talented superstar playing on a contending team. It wasn’t enough for Rick.

Bruce Hale, his father-in-law, had become head coach of the new ABA Oakland Oaks, owned by entertainer Pat Boone. Barry signed a contract with Boone, hinting that he’s always wanted to star in a movie. But he was still the property of the Warriors under the reserve clause and a judge ruled that Barry would have to sit out the 1967-68 season unless he played for the Warriors. Instead, he spent that year playing in pick-up games against celebrities and becoming the color broadcaster for the Oaks games. he finally got to play again in the 1968-69 season, although he continued taking the NBA to court over the reserve clause. He put up fabulous numbers, 34.0ppg and 9.4rpg and so did his team, going 60-18 and winning the second ABA title with a 12-4 blitz over three opponents. But Rick wasn’t around to see it, having torn up his knee 35 games into the season.

He was back the next year but he wasn’t in Oakland any more. Pat Boone had sold the club to new owners who transferred the franchise 3,000 miles to Washington, DC, where the Oaks became the Capitals. Wikipedia: “Barry did not like the move and refused to report to the team, at one point commenting, "If I wanted to go to Washington, I'd run for president!" He missed the first 32 games before the ABA forced him to join the team.” The knee continued to be a problem but Rick scored 27.7 although his rebounds declined to 7.0 as he became more of a perimeter player. Then the team was moved again to become the “Virginia Squires”, playing in Norfolk. Rick declined to play for this team, “saying he did not want his kids growing up with a southern accent”. (He played for Miami but came from New Jersey).

He was then traded to the New York Nets. The knee limited him to 59 games but he upped his scoring to 29.4 to lead the league but they lost (Ugh!) to the Virginia Squires in the playoffs. Rick won another scoring title with a 31.5 average in 1971-72 managing an 80 game season. His team was 44-40 but upset the 68-16 Kentucky colonels in the playoffs, then beat the Squires in the eastern finals before losing the championship to the Indiana Pacers.

Rick had said that “he would not return to the NBA if the league paid him "a million dollars a year" but when he finally lost his court case and we was ordered to return to the Warriors, he did. There he transitioned into the first “point forward, handling the ball, setting up the offense and doing much of his scoring from the outside. He put it all together in 1974-75, averaging 30.6ppg and leading his team to the NBA title in a shocking 4-0 sweep over the Bullets, who had the NBA’s best record, (tied with the Celtics , who they’d beaten in the eastern finals) at 60-22 compared to the Warriors mediocre 48-34.

From Zander Hollander’s “The Modern Encyclopedia of basketball”: “The euphoria did not last long, however. After two more years with the Warriors – year sin which the outspoken Barry often incurred the wrath of his teammates- the nomadic forward was on the move again. In the manner of 1978, now 34, he signed with the Houston Rockets.” But the string was running out for Rick. He averaged 13.5 and 12.0ppg in his two years with the Rockets before retiring to become a commentator. His final averages were 24.8ppg, 6.7rpg and 4.9apg, a great player but not a beloved one.

He’s probably most known today for tossing his free throws under-handed, which allowed him to have a percentage of .900 for his career and .947 for one season, both records that have since been broken. He’s also known for that rarity- producing sons that played in the NBA, three of them: Jon Brent and Drew, as well as a fourth, Scooter who played in the minors and abroad. But none of them were a patch on Daddy.

Rick’s stats: Rick Barry Stats | Basketball-Reference.com

A documentary on Barry: Vintage NBA-Rick Barry
 
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