By Lorenzo Tanos
Before it became fashionable to justify the presence of an unskilled seven-footer on one's lineup by saying "you can't teach height", seven-footers were largely considered as freaks, and not in a good way. Wilt Chamberlain would change all that starting in the 1959-60 season, where he pulled off the unprecedented feat of winning both MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Unlike other seven-footers who came before him, Chamberlain was genuinely skilled, a high school phenom from Philadelphia who dominated the college game, then spent a year with the Harlem Globetrotters while waiting to become eligible for the NBA Draft. And he was also an excellent athlete for his size, proving that not everyone of his height was as clumsy or poorly-coordinated. Here's our recap of that memorable 1959-60 season, when The Big Dipper was, at least in terms of stats, the new sheriff in town.
|New York Knicks||27||48||.360||32.0|
|St. Louis Hawks*||46||29||.613||—|
NBA Champions – Boston Celtics (d. St. Louis Hawks 4-3 in NBA Finals)
MVP – Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors (37.6 ppg, 27.0 rpg – 1st round, territorial)
Rookie of the Year – Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors (37.6 ppg, 27.0 rpg – 1st round, territorial)
LEAGUE LEADERS – Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia, 37.6 ppg, 2,707 points), Chamberlain (27.0 rpg, 1,941 rebounds) BobCousy (Boston, 9.5apg, 715 assists), Tom Gola(Philadelphia, 311 fouls), Kenny Sears (New York, 47.7% FG), DolphSchayes (Syracuse, 89.3% FT)
UNPRECEDENTED – That, in one word, is the best way to describe Wilt Chamberlain's arrival in the NBA scene. Debuting in the NBA on October 24, 1959, Chamberlain scored 43 points to lead the Philadelphia Warriors to an 118-109 win over the New York Knicks, and from there on in, he was on a roll, ending the season with averages of over 37 points and 27 rebounds a game, and becoming the NBA's first of two Rookies of the Year to win MVP in the same season. As we'll find out in coming yearly recaps, Chamberlain's statistical dominance didn't lead to championships until he started to become more "unselfish" and be the best complementary player possible, but for now, he was unstoppable as an individual player.
INEPTITUDE 101 – Starting in the late ‘50s and extending for most of the'60s, the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons would rack up losing record after losing record after losing record. The Knicks, who had finished 40-32 the year before, hit bottom in 1959-60, despite a lineup that featured three bona fide stars in Richie Guerin, Willie Naulls and Kenny Sears. Sadly, the rest of the lineup was filled with holes, with some of the other 1960 Knicks including fading backcourtmen Carl Braun and Dick Garmaker, and 1957 draft bust Charlie Tyra, who enjoyed his only double-figure season in 1959-60 as the Knicks' starting center. The Pistons, on the other hand, were also held back by the fact they had just three stars, namely Wilt Chamberlain's co-leader in minutes Gene Shue, rookie star Bailey Howell and foul-prone center Walter Dukes.
THE CELTICS' DUAL-SPORT STAR – Before Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, the NBA had a player who enjoyed productive careers in both the NBA and MLB. And he happened to play on the league champion Boston Celtics as a reliever to both Bill Russell at center and Tommy Heinsohn at power forward. Gene Conley, who debuted in 1952-53 for the Celtics, returned the previous season after five years focusing on his baseball career, and in 1959-60, enjoyed his best statistical year as a Celtic, averaging 6.7 ppg and 8.3 rpg off the bench. The 6'8" Conley was also coming off a successful 1959 season for the Philadelphia Phillies, as Major League Baseball's tallest pitcher at the time. Conley went 12-7 for the Phillies, boasting great control (42 BBs) and decent command of the strike zone (102 Ks) in 180 innings and 25 games. He was also named to his third baseball All-Star Game in 1959, pitching two innings in the second All-Star Game that year.
A LOOK AT THE LEAGUE LEADERS/TITLE WINNERS –The 1959-60 Boston Celtics chose to leave their lineup almost intact, dropping only seldom-used forwards Lou Tsioropoulos and Bennie Swain, and adding rookie role players John Richter, Gene Guarilia and Maurice King. But more importantly, the Celtics retained the same starters and the same key reserves, with the Jones boys, Sam and K.C., coming into their own as the team's top reserves. Expanding on his offensive role, Tom Heinsohn took over as Boston's top scorer with 21.7 ppg, and finished a (very) distant second in rebounding with 10.6 a game. Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman were still the league's best backcourt, Frank Ramsey was still the NBA's best sixth man, and Bill Russell (18.2 ppg, 24.0 rpg, 3.7 apg) had a phenomenal season that was only second statistically to Chamberlain's.
THE CELLAR DWELLERS – Again, the Cincinnati Royals remained consistently inept, despite featuring the league's second-leading scorer in Jack Twyman (31.2 ppg, 8.9 rpg). Twyman would again find himself teaming with players who would have likely rode the bench on other teams – players like Bucky Bockhorn and Win Wilfong at guard, Dave Piontek at forward and (arguably) the platoon of Phil Jordon and Wayne Embry at center. Regardless of whether the Royals finished with the NBA's worst record in 1959-60 or not, they would still be in position to use the territorial rule to draft one of the NBA's greatest guards of all time in 1960, though we'll be getting to him in about a week or so.
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