NBA Season Recaps: 1956-57 NBA Season

By Lorenzo Tanos

You can call the 1956-57 season the beginning of a new era, as this would mark the year of the Boston Celtics' ascendancy.  After years of being mostly a good, but not great team, the Celtics made the right moves in the offseason and in the draft, though as you'll find out here, they weren't that much better than other teams in terms of win-loss record – at least not yet.  We're finally back with more season recaps, and we hope you'll enjoy this one as we take a trip back in time to the Eisenhower administration, the Yankees' dominance in Major League Baseball, the infancy of rock 'n' roll, and the infancy of something else – the Boston Celtics' NBA dynasty.

Eastern Division              
Boston Celtics* 44 28 .611 105.5 100.2 4.79
Syracuse Nationals* 38 34 .528 6.0 99.7 101.1 -1.02
Philadelphia Warriors* 37 35 .514 7.0 100.4 98.8 1.55
New York Knicks 36 36 .500 8.0 100.8 100.9 0.07
Western Division              
St. Louis Hawks* 34 38 .472 98.5 98.6 -0.26
Minneapolis Lakers* 34 38 .472 102.3 103.1 -0.88
Fort Wayne Pistons* 34 38 .472 96.4 98.7 -2.17
Rochester Royals 31 41 .431 3.0 93.4 95.6 -2.07


NBA Champions – Philadelphia Warriors (def. Fort Wayne Pistons 4-1 in NBA Finals)

MVP – Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics (20.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 7.5 apg)

Rookie of the Year – Tom Heinsohn, Boston Celtics (1st round, Territorial, 1956 Draft,16.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg)

LEAGUE LEADERS – Paul Arizin (Philadelphia, 25.6 ppg, 1,817 points), Maurice Stokes (Rochester, 17.4rpg, 1,256 rebounds),  BobCousy  (Boston,7.5apg, 478 assists), Vern Mikkelsen (Minneapolis, 312 fouls), Neil Johnston (Philadelphia, 44.7% FG), Bill Sharman (Boston, 90.5% FT)

SUPER SCORERS DO NOT A CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM MAKE – What do Paul Arizin (25.8 ppg, Philadelphia), Bob Pettit (24.7 ppg, St. Louis), Neil Johnston (22.8 ppg, Philadelphia), DolphSchayes (22.5 ppg, Syracuse) and George Yardley(21.5 ppg, Fort Wayne) have in common?  We'll talk more about the Celtics later, but if you guessed the players above were the top five in average in scoring, yet failed to win a championship in 1957, you're right.   In all fairness, the Celtics had two 20-point men (Bill Sharman and Bob Cousy), but all in all, six players averaged in double figures in the 1956-57 season, proving that spreading the wealth is more effective than having just one or two players shoulder the bulk of the offensiveload.

WINNING AWARDS THROUGH TOTALS, NOT AVERAGES – For close to its first 25 years, the NBA determined yearly statistical leaders by their total points rather than their averages.  While one may think Bill Russell would have been a shoo-in for 1957 Rookie of the Year, he wasn't – due to his commitments to the U.S. Olympic team, Russell played only 48 out of a possible 72 games as a rookie.  As such, his league-leading 19.6 rebounds per game wouldn't have cut it.  And he also conceded the Rookie of the Year award to his fellow Celtic, Tom Heinsohn, due to this.

 Despite being the second-best rookie on the Celtics in 1956-57, Heinsohn won Rookie of the Year that season, as he had played all 72 games and posted strong numbers for a rookie.  Fortunately, Heinsohn was no flash in the pan, earning the nickname "Ack-Ack" (like the sound of a machine gun) for his shooting and scoring ability, and appearing in the All-Star Game six out of his nine NBA seasons.

HOW THE WEST WAS LOST – ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF PARITY – One peculiar observation in the 1956-57 NBA season was the fact that none of the Western Division teams had winning records – three teams (St. Louis, Minneapolis, Fort Wayne) had 34-38 records, while Mo Stokes, Jack Twyman and the Rochester Royals were just three games behind at 31-41.  And here's the kicker – all the Eastern Division teams had better records than those in the West!

A LOOK AT THE TITLE WINNERS/LEAGUE LEADERS – With center Bill Russell and forward Tommy Heinsohn (see above) joining the Boston Celtics as rookies, Red Auerbach's charges had everything they needed.  The draft rights to Russell were acquired from the St. Louis Hawks for high-scoring, yet soft center "Easy Ed" Macauley and 1954 rookie Cliff Hagan (technically a rookie, as he had spent two years in the military upon graduation), while Heinsohn was a territorial choice out of Holy Cross.  With the two teaming with the star backcourt of MVP Bob Cousy and the sweet-shooting Bill Sharman, rugged power forward Jim Loscutoff, pioneering sixth man Frank Ramsey and veteran big men Jack Nichols and Arnie Risen, the 1957 Celtics had all that they needed to start a dynasty, even if their 61.1% winning percentage didn't really suggest that.  Neither did the seven games it took them to beat the St. Louis Hawks in the NBA Finals, but this championship would be the first of many – an unprecedented 11 out of 13 championships from 1956 through 1969.

THE CELLAR DWELLERS – The Rochester Royals had two young and talented frontcourt men in Jack Twyman (16.3 ppg) and Maurice Stokes (15.6 ppg, 17.4 rpg, 4.6 apg), but they didn't have much else, really.  1955 first-overall pick Dick Ricketts was still a disappointment (11.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg), and so was their 1956 first-overall pick, Sihugo Green, though the fact he played just 13 games (11.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) gave him the benefit of the doubt.  And with Bob Davies and Bobby Wanzer both retired, the Royals had to make do with Green, Richie Regan and John McCarthy as their top backcourt players – not really the players you need to give Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman a good scare.

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