The NBA Time Machine: 1959

Published December 3, 2022

The NBA Time Machine:

The E.L.G.

Saving the Lakers

The Minneapolis Lakers were in shambles following the 1957-58 season. They were the worst team in the NBA by far, lacked stability financially, and felt a strong dent in their fanbase’s engagement following the end of the early-50’s dynasty.

Not much optimism floated around the organization, but there was one last resort option to save the NBA‘s most storied team – a Seattle University prospect named Elgin Baylor.

Baylor was begged by the Lakers to skip his senior year and join the pros, to which he obliged. He didn’t quite make the team a contender, but his top-tier athleticism and flashiness made him one of the best – and most exciting – players in the league. He was an immediate contender for the Most Valuable Player award despite only amassing thirty-three wins, and naming him the annual Rookie of the Year was a no-brainer.

Down Goes the Royals

After losing franchise player Maurice Stokes to a career-ending injury, the Cincinnati Royals were directionless. They had an exciting young guard in Jack Twyman, who took an enormous leap in his friend’s absence – his scoring averages went up from 17.2 to 25.8, and he embraced the green light from coaching staff as he led the league in field goal attempts.

Cincinnati also traded former All-Star Clyde Lovellette to the St. Louis Hawks, proving a commitment to rebuilding. Giving Twyman more development opportunities was a firm enough goal, and they happily received a slew of players in Lovellette’s trade. Amongst them was the rookie center Wayne Embry, who while raw, showed flashes of potential.

Standout Players

Bob Pettit

Pettit’s prime continued with yet another phenomenal regular season, ending in him winning the M.V.P. award. He led the league in scoring for the first time since 1956 and played the most minutes as well.

Bill Russell

Russell anchored the league-best defense for the third consecutive year, also leading Boston to fifty wins for the first time in franchise history. His averages in all major statistics continued to rise as he inched closer to his peak, playing a whopping forty-two minutes per game.

Elgin Baylor

The Seattle rookie transformed Lakers culture into something exciting, dragging them out of the gutter with his immediate superstar play. He had scoring outbursts as high as fifty-five points, earning a reputation as one of the league’s premier offensive talents.

Kenny Sears

Sears had quietly transformed into an All-Star over his four-year career, continuing the trend in ’59. He helped New York lock into a surprisingly high seed, earning them a playoff berth behind his absurdly efficient scoring and skilled rebounding.

Cliff Hagan

Hagan was practically the league’s best small forward at this point, meaning St. Louis had the best players at both forward positions. He officially joined the 20/10 club and continued to score on amazing splits, becoming a staple player for the Hawks.

Paul Arizin

Arizin had a down year in ’58, but he bounced back with one of the better peformances in the NBA this season. Unfortunately, injuries limited co-star Neil Johnston – the Warriors could not push their way into the post-season again, wasting the first of their franchise favorite’s twilight years.

Around the League

Team Standings

An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.

Eastern DivisionWLWestern DivisionWL
Boston Celtics*5220St. Louis Hawks*4923
New York Knicks*4032Minneapolis Lakers*3339
Syracuse Nationals*3537Detroit Pistons*2844
Philadelphia Warriors3240Cincinnati Royals1953

Fun Facts

  • After a three-year playoff drought, the New York Knicks crawled their way back into the post-season behind a stellar offense.
    • Leading the way was All-Star forward Kenny Sears, who was the most efficient scorer in the NBA.
  • After accepting that their team was not seeing improvement, the Detroit Pistons traded five-time All-Star George Yardley to the Syracuse Nationals.
    • Even then, they still saw the playoffs – thanks to the Cincinnati Royals‘ incompetence, they clinched a placement despite going 4-11 the rest of the way.
  • For the second consecutive year, the St. Louis Hawks were the only Western Division team with a positive win-loss record.
  • The Boston Celtics joined the Minneapolis Lakers, Cincinnati Royals, and Syracuse Nationals as the only franchises to snag fifty wins in a season.
    • This was Boston’s first time, and also the only instance of an NBA team doing so after the league adopted the seventy-two game format.

Notable Movement


The player stats listed are based on their last tenure, whether it be with their former team or the previous season.
Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with a plus (+) opted to play in another league instead of the NBA this season.

Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with an asterisk (*) were selected with a territorial draft pick.
p – points
r – rebounds
a – assists

Top Draft Picks

Minneapolis Lakers
Cincinnati Royals
New York Knicks
New York Knicks
Philadelphia Warriors
Syracuse Nationals
St. Louis Hawks
Boston Celtics
Minneapolis Lakers
Cincinnati Royals
Elgin Baylor
Archie Dees
Mike Farmer
Pete Brennan
Guy Rodgers*
Connie Dierking
Dave Gambee
Bennie Swain
Steve Hamilton
Vern Hatton


August 5, 1958Clyde LovelletteCincinnati RoyalsTradedSt. Louis Hawks(23.4p/12.1r/1.9a)
February 13, 1959George YardleyDetroit PistonsTradedSyracuse Nationals(20.8p/7.1r/0.9a)

Other Personnel

April 30, 1958Coach Alex HannumSt. Louis HawksResignedRecord: 41-31
May 24, 1958Coach Andy PhillipSt. Louis HawksHiredRecord: 6-4
September 12, 1958Coach Al CerviPhiladelphia WarriorsHiredRecord: 32-40
November 20, 1958Player-coach Ed MacauleySt. Louis HawksHiredRecord: 43-19
December 1, 1958Coach Bobby WanzerCincinnati RoyalsFiredRecord: 3-15
December 1, 1958Coach Tom MarshallCincinnati RoyalsHiredRecord: 16-38
March 18, 1959Coach Al CerviPhiladelphia WarriorsResignedRecord: 32-40


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Harry GallatinNew York Knicks
Detroit Pistons
2x All-NBA
7x All-Star
1x Rebounds Leader
Mel HutchinsMilwaukee Hawks
Fort Wayne Pistons
New York Knicks
4x All-Star
1x Rebounds Leader
Andy PhillipChicago Stags
Philadelphia Warriors
Fort Wayne Pistons
Boston Celtics
1x Champion
2x All-NBA

5x All-Star
2x Assists leader
Arnie RisenRochester Royals
Boston Celtics
2x Champion
1x All-BAA

4x All-Star
Maurice StokesCincinnati Royals3x All-NBA
3x All-Star
1956 Rookie of the Year
1x Rebounds Leader

League Leaders

If a stat is not listed, it was not recorded at the time. As time goes on, this section will begin to include steals per game, blocks per game, etc.


PPG – points per game
RPG – rebounds per game
APG – assists per game
FG% – field goal percentage (percentage of shots that hit)
FT% – free throw percentage (percentage of foul shots that hit)

PPGBob Pettit (29.2)
Paul Arizin (26.4)
Jack Twyman (25.8)
Elgin Baylor (24.9)
Cliff Hagan (23.7)
RPGBill Russell (23)
Bob Pettit (16.4)
Elgin Baylor (15)
Red Kerr (14)
Dolph Schayes (13.4)
APGBob Cousy (8.6)
Dick McGuire (6.2)
Larry Costello (5.4)
Richie Guerin (5.1)
Carl Braun (4.8)
FG%Kenny Sears (49%)
Bill Russell (45%)
Cliff Hagan (45%)
Clyde Lovellette (45%)
Hal Greer (45%)
FT%Bill Sharman (93%)
Dolph Schayes (86%)
Kenny Sears (86%)
Bob Cousy (85%)
Willie Naulls (83%)



East / Syracuse Nationals beat New York Knicks, 2-0
While New York gave the more experienced Nationals a run for their money in Game 1, they could not keep up over the entirety of a series.

Syracuse’s advantage existed in the simple form of star power. What some may not realize is they had a ridiculous count of four All-Stars on their roster – Schayes, Costello, Kerr and Yardley. Consider the fiery rookie Hal Greer also contributing consistently, and it became clear the Nationals had formed a championship-level squad overnight – one that also dampened the Knicks’ magical season.
West / Minneapolis Lakers beat Detroit Pistons, 2-1
Despite having no place in the post-season this year, the Pistons could’ve realistically taken this series from Minneapolis. They blew a lead in the first game, which stung more when taking into account Elgin Baylor’s awful two-for-seventeen shooting performance.

They did manage to take Game 2 at home thanks to All-Star Gene Shue, but their momentum was killed off by a great outing from Baylor in the tiebreaker. Shue did everything in his power to pull off an upset, dropping thirty-one points, but the Lakers were simply a tier above Detroit.

Division Finals

East / Boston Celtics beat Syracuse Nationals, 4-3
While the Celtics were far and away the championship favorites, Syracuse looked like a team capable of achieving the unexpected. They were amongst the top ranks on both ends of the floor, had more All-Stars than Boston, and felt motivated coming off a first-round sweep.

The entire matchup was back-and-forth, with neither team claiming a lead the whole way. It was generally believed that Boston was shooting themselves in the foot – their wins were by much larger margins, and their backcourt underperformed on multiple occasions.

It was only in Game 7 that they pulled away to reach the Finals for the third straight year – despite Dolph Schayes and George Yardley both surpassing thirty points each, big games from various Celtics players resulted in a loss for Syracuse. Bob Cousy almost dropped a triple double, Bill Russell grabbed thirty-two boards, and the sophomore shooting guard Sam Jones scored nineteen points on great efficiency.
West / Minneapolis Lakers beat St. Louis Hawks, 4-2
With Cliff Hagan scoring forty points in the opener, it seemed obvious that the contending Hawks would steamroll Minneapolis. Their biggest concern was road wins – going into Game 5, both teams had only sniffed victory at home.

Elgin Baylor had met expectations through those first four games, but he gained the league’s respect shortly after. He went toe-to-toe with two-time M.V.P. Bob Pettit, matching his total of thirty-six points on superior efficiency to grab a road win in overtime.

This changed the outcome of the series entirely – the Lakers were now thriving as underdogs, and went back to Minneapolis the day after with confidence. Things worked out for them in the end, too – Pettit had an off night as the phenomenal Lakers rookie led his team to one of the greatest upsets in NBA history.


Boston Celtics beat Minneapolis Lakers, 4-0
The Lakers’ Cinderella run could only be completed by defeating the league’s strongest force – the Boston Celtics.

These two teams had never faced each other in the Finals before, as the Celtics were never quite good enough to reach that stage during the Minneapolis dynasty. Lakers fans were now witnessing their young superstar go headfirst into a brawl against a powerhouse…and the results were by no means unexpected.

Despite Minneapolis nearly mounting a comeback in Game 1, Boston’s rebounding and defensive advantages were far too apparent. Baylor proceeded to struggle in the next two matches consequently, which rendered the Lakers hopeless against a versatile Celtics squad where everybody knew their role. Russell showed off with excessive rebounding, Cousy locked in as a playmaker, and the offensive trio of Heinsohn/Ramsey/Sharman continuously scored bucket after bucket.

Baylor got back on his feet in Game 4, and alongside teammates Slick Leonard and Vern Mikkelsen, nearly avoided the sweep. However, they failed to overpower Boston in the fourth quarter as the green team won their second championship in a three-year span.
The Boston Celtics win the 1959 NBA championship!


Name(s) under the “All-Stars” section with an asterisk (*) were listed as the MVP of the All-Star Game that year. Those with “(IR)” next to their name were chosen to replace an injured star.

Major Awards

Rookie of the YearMVP
Elgin BaylorBob Pettit


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Bob Cousy
Bill Sharman
Elgin Baylor
Bob Pettit
Bill Russell
Slater Martin
Richie Guerin
Paul Arizin
Cliff Hagan
Dolph Schayes


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Paul Arizin
Larry Costello
Bob Cousy
Richie Guerin
Red Kerr
Bill Russell
Woody Sauldsberry
Dolph Schayes
Kenny Sears
Bill Sharman
Elgin Baylor*
Larry Foust
Dick Garmaker
Cliff Hagan
Slater Martin
Dick McGuire
Bob Pettit*
Gene Shue
Jack Twyman
George Yardley
West beats East, 124-108

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

The Baltimore Bullets (1947-1954) won the championship in 1948, but are defunct. As a result, they are not listed.

Lakers51949, 1950
1952, 1953
Warriors21947, 1956
Celtics21957, 1959

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