NBA Season Recaps: the 1961-1962 Season

By Lorenzo Tanos

As you'll find out below, 1962 was more than just the year of the first Boston vs L.A. NBA Finals.  (It wasn't the first Lakers vs Celtics Finals, though, as that took place in 1959, when the Lakers were based in Minneapolis.)  It was the Year of Offense in the NBA, a year when one man scored a hundred points in a single game, one where another had averaged a triple-double in points, rebounds and assists.  Five players (Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Bellamy, Bob Pettit, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson) averaged over 30 ppg, and that could have become seven had Elgin Baylor (38.3 ppg, 48 games) qualified and Richie Guerin (29.5 ppg) averaged a half-point more.  And there were still only nine NBA teams then, including the expansion Chicago Packers.  So let's now take a look at what went down in that high-scoring, run-and-gun NBA season of 1961-62.

Eastern Division        
Boston Celtics* 58 22 .725
Syracuse Nationals* 48 32 .600 10.0
Cincinnati Royals* 42 38 .525 16.0
New York Knicks 21 59 .263 37.0
Western Division        
Los Angeles Lakers* 53 27 .663
St. Louis Hawks* 48 32 .600 5.0
Detroit Pistons* 34 46 .425 19.0
San Francisco Warriors 31 49 .388 22.0
Chicago Zephyrs 25 55 .313 28.0

NBA Champions – Boston Celtics (d. Los Angeles Lakers 4-3in NBA Finals)

MVP – Bill Russell (Boston Celtics, 18.9 ppg, 23.6 rpg, 4.5 apg)

Rookie of the Year – Walt Bellamy (Chicago Packers, 31.6 ppg, 19.0 rpg)

LEAGUE LEADERS – Wilt Chamberlain (Philadelphia, 50.4ppg, 4,029 points), Chamberlain (25.6rpg, 2,052 rebounds)Oscar Robertson  (Cincinnati,11.4apg, 899 assists), Tom Meschery(Philadelphia, 330 fouls), Walt Bellamy (Chicago, 51.9% FG), DolphSchayes (Syracuse, 89.7%)

HOOPING IT UP IN '62 – Given the sophisticated nature of basketball defenses these days, it's not likely that we'll be seeing an offensive season like 1961-62 anytime soon.  That year, the NBA as a whole averaged 118.8 ppg, edging the previous year's record by a fraction of a point per game, and it was no surprise that Wilt Chamberlain's Philadelphia Warriors were on top of it all with 125.4 ppg.  The Chicago Packers, who finished dead last at 18-62, averaged 110.9 a game.  And while scoring in the NBA has long recovered from the defensive-oriented "doldrums" of the late'90s, the Denver Nuggets led the NBA scoring last season with 106.1 ppg.  Oh, how times have changed.

IS THERE ANYTHING WILT COULDN'T DO? – Back in 1961-62, the answer to that question may have been "pass" and "shoot free throws", because Wilt Chamberlain had a statistical season for the ages that year.  To wit, that's 50.4 ppg, 25.7 rpg, 48.5 mpg (yes, that includes overtimes) and 50.6% shooting from the field (second to Walt Bellamy).  That season also included that unprecedented 100-point game in Hershey, Pa., where probably Wilt's most interesting individual stat, aside from the one hundred points, was 28 out of 32 free throws, or 88% from the line.  And that was exactly the problem for Chamberlain for most of his career – poor free throw shooting.  His 61.3% from the stripe in 1962 was actually a career-best.  And he didn't pass much either, as he normed just 2.4 apg, definitely not a good number for someone who played more than a full game's worth of minutes per outing.

TRIPLE-DOUBLES ALL YEAR LONG – Adding to the statistical milestones in the 1962 NBA season was Oscar Robertson's unbelievable accomplishment of averaging a triple-double – 30.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg and 11.4 apg, the latter of which was a new record.  Though the NBA didn't keep triple-doubles as a statistic back in the ‘60s, it was eventually discovered that the "Big O" had 41 in 79 games in the 1961-62 season, something that has yet to be approached by anybody other than Robertson himself.

AND STILL, IT'S BILL – But despite the above offensive moments from Wilt, Oscar and the NBA in general, the league's MVP award still went to its best defensive player at the time, Bill Russell.  Despite averaging less than 40% of Chamberlain's scoring clip and finishing second to him in rebounds (both total and average), Russell was named MVP for the 1961-62 season on account of his versatility and, more importantly, his ability to shut down all manner of opposing players and do the little things to help the Celtics win, both in the regular season and in the Playoffs.

A LOOK AT THE LEAGUE LEADERS/TITLE WINNERS –It was mostly more of the same for the Boston Celtics in terms of their lineup, but with a few changes in roles.  Following Bill Sharman's move to the upstart ABL, Sam Jones (18.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg) would take over as starting off-guard, while K.C. Jones would get more playing time as 33-year-old Bob Cousy's reliever at the point.  Tom Sanders (11.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg), who didn't get much playing time as a rookie, would move into the starting small forward spot alongside scoring leader Tom Heinsohn (22.1 ppg, 9.5 rpg).  The reserve backcourt would also get bolstered by rookie Gary Phillips and ex-Knicks All-Star Carl Braun.  Add it all up and you had the Celtics making it a four-peat in '62.

THE CELLAR DWELLERS – As the NBA's first modern expansion team, the Chicago Packers were expected to bring up the bottom in 1961-62, and that's what they did.  Aside from Rookie of the Year Walt Bellamy and his "poor man's Wilt" numbers, the Packers didn't have much to speak of in their lineup – players such as Slick Leonard (the future Indiana Pacers coach in the ABA), Ralph Davis, Charlie Tyra and Andy Johnson were all of journeyman caliber, and were mostly reserves on their previous teams.  Not surprisingly, a lot of them put up career numbers on the Packers.  All told, if the Packers didn't get Bellamy in the Draft, we may still have an all-time record in ineptitude, 51 years old and counting.

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