The NBA Time Machine: 1961

Published December 19, 2022

The NBA Time Machine:

Welcoming the West

Los Angeles

During the 1959-60 season, the Minneapolis Lakers experimented with playing a few games in California – one in Los Angeles against the Philadelphia Warriors, and another couple against the St. Louis Hawks some weeks later. Franchise owner Bob Short took note of the significantly better fan attendance in those neutral settings than that of Minneapolis – he immediately hinted at considering relocation afterwards.

Once he proposed the idea, the NBA was hesitant on approving the decision – however, they allowed it under a couple costs:

  • That Bob Short draw a satisfactory schedule amongst their home arenas
  • And that he paid off travel costs for the rest of the league

Due to the latter, teams often played back-to-backs when in Los Angeles – it decreased the frequency of travel and therefore conserved funds.

Following the move, the Lakers not only became the NBA‘s first west coast team, but also the final member of the Western Division to abandon their original location. The Hawks had left Milwaukee, the Pistons abandoned Fort Wayne, and the Royals relocated from Rochester.

Two Guards

The top two picks in the 1960 draft were point guards Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, who both played excellently in college. Robertson regularly stuffed the stat sheet and was unstoppable offensively – standing at 6’5″, he was abnormally large for a guard and therefore succeeded scoring anywhere on the court.

West was nearly as versatile himself, averaging 29.3 points and 16.5 rebounds per game during his final college season. His resiliency was exciting to teams, and he co-captained the gold medal-winning Olympics team this year alongside Robertson.

Ultimately, Robertson was drafted first by the Cincinnati Royals via territorial rules. Coinciding with their move to California, the Los Angeles Lakers chose West with the second pick.

More and More

In light of stability amongst the league’s franchises, the NBA increased its amount of games for the second consecutive year. This time they reached for 79 from 75.

Standout Players

Wilt Chamberlain

The reigning M.V.P. showed no signs of a sophomore slump, improving his scoring and rebounding averages while also becoming the first player in league history to average 50% on field goals for the year. Behind his paint presence, the Warriors also remained a top ranked defense.

Bill Russell

Offensively, this season was nothing to write home about for Russell – however, his defense was so mind-blowingly dominant that it exhausted opponents on a regular basis. After another campaign well over fifty wins for the Celtics, Russell was awarded his second M.V.P. award.

Elgin Baylor

Now paired with an elite playmaker in the rookie Jerry West, Baylor improved on all fronts and became nearly unstoppable. His offense both on and off-ball was so refined that he was able to surpass thirty points per game, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Jack Twyman and Oscar Robertson as the only players to accomplish such.

Oscar Robertson

The Cincinnati rookie was instantly one of the best players around upon arrival. He could get any shot he wanted, rebounded at an absurdly high rate for a guard, and was immediately the best passer in the league. On top of all of this, he was efficient – the Royals’ fourteen-win improvement was no surprise.

Bob Pettit

Pettit continued ripping his competition apart amidst his prime. The Hawks surpassed fifty wins for the first time in franchise history – Pettit contributed through being a top scorer yet again, and his defensive abilities saw improvement as well.

Bailey Howell

A surprising story of the season was the uprising of Pistons sophomore Bailey Howell. He wasn’t quite a superstar by any means, but was one of the most efficient volume scorers and contributed to Detroit becoming the second best offense in the NBA.

Around the League

Team Standings

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

Eastern DivisionWLWestern DivisionWL
Boston Celtics*5722St. Louis Hawks*5128
Philadelphia Warriors*4633Los Angeles Lakers*3643
Syracuse Nationals*3841Detroit Pistons*3445
New York Knicks2158Cincinnati Royals3346

Fun Facts

  • The St. Louis Hawks continued to rule the Western Division as the only winning team yet again, also netting fifty victories.
  • With no defensive identity, the New York Knicks sharply declined and morphed into the worst team in the league for the first time in franchise history.
  • The Boston Celtics fully bought into prioritizing defense – they ranked dead last in offense, but still roamed atop the standings with their historic ball-stopping.
  • The top three defenses were the only teams with positive win-loss records – it was clear that as the sport’s pace increased, the ability to limit scorers was never more important.

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

Cincinnati Royals
Los Angeles Lakers
New York Knicks
Detroit Pistons
Syracuse Nationals
St. Louis Hawks
Philadelphia Warriors
Boston Celtics
Cincinnati Royals
New York Knicks
Oscar Robertson*
Jerry West
Darrall Imhoff
Jackie Moreland
Lee Shaffer +
Lenny Wilkens
Al Bunge +
Tom Sanders
Jay Arnette
Dave Budd

Other Personnel

April 20, 1960Coach Ed MacauleySt. Louis HawksReassignedRecord: 46-29
April 20, 1960Coach Paul SeymourSt. Louis HawksHiredRecord: 51-28
April 23, 1960Coach Alex HannumSyracuse NationalsHiredRecord: 38-41
April 25, 1960Coach Tom MarshallCincinnati RoyalsFiredRecord: 19-56
April 25, 1960Coach Charles WolfCincinnati RoyalsHiredRecord: 33-46
August 20, 1960Coach Fred SchausLos Angeles LakersHiredRecord: 36-43


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Slater MartinMinneapolis Lakers
New York Knicks
St. Louis Hawks
5x Champion
5x All-NBA
7x All-Star
Dick McGuireNew York Knicks
Detroit Pistons
1x All-NBA
7x All-Star
1x Assists Leader
Paul SeymourBaltimore Bullets
Syracuse Nationals
1x Champion
2x All-NBA
3x All-Star
George YardleyDetroit Pistons
Syracuse Nationals
2x All-NBA
6x All-Star
1x Scoring 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)

PPGWilt Chamberlain (38.4)
Elgin Baylor (34.8)
Oscar Robertson (30.5)
Bob Pettit (27.9)
Jack Twyman (25.3)
RPGWilt Chamberlain (27.2)
Bill Russell (23.9)
Bob Pettit (20.3)
Elgin Baylor (19.8)
Bailey Howell (14.4)
APGOscar Robertson (9.7)
Guy Rodgers (8.7)
Bob Cousy (7.7)
Gene Shue (6.8)
Richie Guerin (6.4)
FG%Wilt Chamberlain (50%)
Jack Twyman (48%)
Larry Costello (48%)
Oscar Robertson (47%)
Bailey Howell (46%)
FT%Bill Sharman (92%)
Dolph Schayes (86%)
Gene Shue (85%)
Paul Arizin (83%)
Frank Ramsey (83%)



East / Syracuse Nationals beat Philadelphia Warriors, 3-0
The chances of Syracuse beating Philadelphia seemed slim. They were dropped off by them in the first round just a year ago, and showed no signs of improvement this time around.

However, the Warriors’ offensive schemes were severely exposed. They were heavily reliant on Wilt Chamberlain, and that worked during the regular season – however, they were contained in embarrassing fashion once the playoffs rolled around. Wilt was dominant all series, even shooting from the foul line better than usual in the first two games. However, worse-than-usual efficiency and poor free throw shooting from the center cost them the chance to avoid a sweep in Game 3.

The Nationals were rolling the entire matchup, with all rotational players contributing en route to gritty victories. Their success is even more surprising considering how poorly Dolph Schayes shot – the Larry Costello-Hal Greer backcourt took over.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Detroit Pistons, 3-2
The Lakers’ newfound homecourt advantage was a game-changer. Whenever they hosted, they won in dominant fashion – conversely, having to fly out to Detroit exhausted the team and they underperformed offensively.

Elgin Baylor scored a total of eighty-nine points between L.A.’s first two wins, as well forty-seven in a Game 4 loss. The Pistons remained resilient and forced a tiebreaker with some authentic team basketball, looking to play hard on the road the next day.

Ultimately, they did not – their offense was incredibly flat and they once again missed the presence of a dominant lead scorer. On the other hand, the Lakers had two – Baylor and Jerry West combined for sixty to hand the Pistons their third consecutive first round exit.

Division Finals

East / Boston Celtics beat Syracuse Nationals, 4-1
After splitting the first two games on Boston’s homecourt, the Celtics aimed to handle business quickly. They had lost by a shameful seventeen points in Game 2, and responded with a twenty-three point blowout win a couple nights later.

The best adjustment was limiting the effectiveness of Dolph Schayes’ scoring – his efficiency began to drop heavily, and he needed to rely on drawing contact to generate two-thirds of his points in Game 4.

Meanwhile, veteran Celtics guard Bill Sharman was having one hell of a series – he was amongst Boston’s top scorers in all but the first match, and worked in tandem with Bill Russell in a very efficient close-out game – the two Bills combined for fifty-two points on 21-34 shooting to influence a gentleman’s sweep.
West / St. Louis Hawks beat Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3
The third straight Western Division Finals featuring these two saw no variance from last season. The Hawks once again persevered against Los Angeles after being down 3-2.

Baylor remained a constant for the Lakers early on, even reaching triple double status in a Game 3 victory. Bob Pettit looked spotty, but his supporting cast helped him snag a win before he got on track with a forty-bomb in a narrow Game 4.

The rest of the series witnessed sustained dominance from Baylor as well as elite efficiency from Jerry West. L.A. almost wrapped the series up in Game 6, but an overtime period resulted in St. Louis forcing a tiebreaker on the road. 1958 Rookie of the Year Woody Sauldsberry greatly influenced that outcome, proving his pickup by St. Louis was a good decision.

Him, Pettit, Cliff Hagan, and the rookie Lenny Wilkens combined for ninety-five of the Hawks’ one-hundred-and-five points in the ultimate contest, sending them to the Finals for the fourth time in five years.


Boston Celtics beat St. Louis Hawks, 4-1
The stage to claim world champion remained largely unsurprising, as the first-seeded Celtics and Hawks faced each other for the fourth time in NBA history. No two franchises had butted heads as often, but Boston was generally considered the superior team.

They confirmed that belief with a quick Game 1 blowout, with nobody but Hagan stepping up for the Hawks. The next match saw little change – Pettit bounced back with thirty points, but him and Hagan were the only two players lifting weight. The Hawks took their first game back home thanks to improvements from Sauldsberry – unfortunately for them, they could not build more momentum as they were down 3-1 to Boston by the end of the next day.

The fifth and final meeting of the Finals was an ugly one for St. Louis, featuring piss-poor shooting all around and no takeover from a star. Meanwhile, Bill Russell cemented his status as an all-time great, netting a rare thirty points and thirty-eight rebounds in triumph.

This made the Boston Celtics the second NBA franchise to win three championships in a row, joining the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Boston Celtics win the 1961 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
Oscar RobertsonBill Russell


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Bob Cousy
Oscar Robertson
Elgin Baylor
Bob Pettit
Wilt Chamberlain
Larry Costello
Gene Shue
Tom Heinsohn
Dolph Schayes
Bill Russell


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Paul Arizin
Wilt Chamberlain
Larry Costello
Bob Cousy
Tom Gola
Hal Greer
Richie Guerin
Tom Heinsohn
Willie Naulls
Bill Russell
Dolph Schayes
Elgin Baylor
Walter Dukes
Wayne Embry
Cliff Hagan
Bailey Howell
Hot Rod Hundley
Clyde Lovellette
Bob Pettit
Oscar Robertson*
Gene Shue
Jerry West
West beats East, 153-131

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
Celtics41957, 1959
1960, 1961
Warriors21947, 1956

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