The NBA Time Machine: 1962

Published December 23, 2022

The NBA Time Machine:
1962


Chi-Town Hoops

A New Challenger Approaches…

The NBA had not seen expansion since the BAA-NBL merger in 1950 that created it. The league’s team total was increased from twelve to seventeen that year, and it slowly watched the majority of them fold afterwards.

The new Chicago Packers were the first attempt at league expansion since, bringing the team total to nine. Named after Chicago’s meatpacking industry, they were inserted into the underperforming Western Division, which not only fit geographically but helped bolster the win counts of the other squads – the West had not seen a winning team besides the St. Louis Hawks in years.

With the first pick in the draft, the Packers chose Walt Bellamy – an Indiana University graduate who had put up monstrous numbers in his college career. Bellamy had potential to be the next physically dominant center, standing at six-foot-eleven and well over two-hundred pounds.

Cleo Hill & St. Louis racism

In St. Louis, racism was rampant. The south was no kind place to African-Americans, and various NBA players of color had dealt with severe aggression when heading out to play the 1958 champions. In the first round, the St. Louis Hawks chose Cleo Hill from Winston-Salem State with the eighth pick. Hill had a lot of promise as an explosive scoring guard, dropping twenty-six points in his very first NBA game.

However, his presence caused immense drift in the locker room. Coach Paul Seymour was a huge fan of Hill’s game, often claiming that the other guards on the team should learn from his playstyle. This infuriated them and eventually led to the firing of Seymour fourteen games into the season. By December, his teammates – including leaders Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, and Clyde Lovellette – had frozen Hill out on a nightly basis, refusing to pass the ball to him at all.

He hardly sniffed double-digit scoring games after, and his field goal attempts dropped drastically. The consensus belief is that the white stars in St. Louis were not fond of a young African-American guard taking away their scoring spotlight – this is why they were not as abrasive with teammate Lenny Wilkens, who was a pass-first point guard.

Hill’s confidence was so far gone by the end of the season that he had completely lost his game. The Hawks cut the rookie from their roster shortly after, and he never played in the NBA again. It served as an unfortunate example of racism’s prevalence in professional sports, often terminating potentially great careers.

Record Setters

As league offense continued to develop and the pace hit unforeseen levels, records were breaking left and right. The most notable of the bunch was Philadelphia’s Wilt Chamberlain averaging an unreal 50.4 points per game – this was a feat of near-unfeasible proportions, and looked even more impressive when you consider he shot 50% from the field. He did this in 48.5 minutes per game, playing every minute in all but one of his matches.

Amidst his historic campaign was an all-time legendary sports moment on March 2nd, 1962. Against the pitiful New York Knicks, Chamberlain scored one-hundred points on 57% shooting in regulation – it was easily the greatest offensive performance the NBA had ever seen. The typically poor foul shooter even managed to hit twenty-eight free throws, which surely contributed to his accomplishment.

The game is largely undocumented due to unimpressive attendance in a foreign arena – the Warriors were technically “home”, but played in Hershey, Pennsylvania as opposed to Philadelphia. The only direct reports of the event are a play-by-play radio broadcast (most of which is difficult to find) and infamous picture of Chamberlain holding a slip of paper with the number “100” on it post-game.

Dippy aside, also worth mentioning was Cincinnati Royals superstar Oscar Robertson. In only his second season, the sophomore averaged a “triple-double” – an unrecorded statistic that involved getting double-digit numbers in points, rebounds, and assists. Clinching one in a game was already a hallmark of elite play, but Robertson managed to do this over seventy-nine games. It was undeniable that he was the most versatile player in the world.

The Boston Celtics also made history by going 60-20 for the season. This was the all-time highest win total for a team to date, and it is even more impressive considering the league kept expanding the game total – this year to eighty from seventy-nine.

Considering the sheer volume of never-before-seen feats, it was reasonable to claim this was the greatest season of basketball up to this point.

Multitasking

Swarmed with military duty, Los Angeles Lakers franchise player Elgin Baylor could only play with his team when given a pass during the latter half of the season. It involved grueling and constant travel, yet Baylor still averaged 38.3 points per game over the forty-eight he played. He was not available enough to qualify for any records.

With his buddy absent, Jerry West stepped up and averaged over thirty points himself, which was a steep jump from his production in ’61. Although West played very well, it is good Baylor didn’t miss too much time. The Lakers were 17-15 in his absence – good for a positive record but not dominant by any means.


Standout Players

Wilt Chamberlain

Chamberlain joined George Mikan and Neil Johnston as the only players to lead the league in scoring for more than two years, as well as Bill Russell for the rebounding equivalent. The Warriors’ poor offensive make-up was entirely masked by his ridiculous scoring average of 50.4 points per game, which accounted for forty-percent of the team’s points.

Oscar Robertson

Robertson’s gaudy averages of 30.8p/12.5r/11.4a were proof of his never-ending bag of talents. He became the first player in league history to average more than ten assists per game, looking as revolutionary of a playmaker as fellow franchise legend Bob Davies did many years ago.

Bill Russell

Interestingly enough, fifty points per game or a triple-double average was not enough to win M.V.P. – instead, Bill Russell earned the honor behind much calmer numbers. This was the best offensive season of his career to date, considering his sharp growth as a playmaker in particular.

Jerry West

West had gone from a soft-spoken, underestimated rookie to one of the premier NBA players overnight. His scoring touch was ridiculous, involving elite foul drawing and efficient shots from anywhere on the floor. Baylor’s missed time was a blessing in disguise for his development.

Richie Guerin

Guerin had emanated the skill and impact of an All-Star for several seasons now, but this was the best year of his career. He finished top six in both scoring and assists, and was the biggest offensive threat on an otherwise dry Knicks team.

Walt Bellamy

The Rookie of the Year enjoyed an impressive campaign, finishing top three in both scoring and rebounding average. He was also the most efficient scorer in the NBA, which was even more impressive given his high count of field goal attempts – the Packers franchise had something to look forward to with this guy.


Around the League

Team Standings

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

Eastern DivisionWLWestern DivisionWL
Boston Celtics*6020Los Angeles Lakers*5426
Philadelphia Warriors*4931Cincinnati Royals*4337
Syracuse Nationals*4139Detroit Pistons*3743
New York Knicks2951St. Louis Hawks2951
Chicago Packers1862

Fun Facts

  • For the first time in four years, more than one Western Division team finished with a positive win-loss record.
    • Amongst this company was the Cincinnati Royals, who had their first winning season since 1954.
    • Similarly, this was the Los Angeles Lakers‘ first winning season since 1955, when they still inhabited Minneapolis.
  • The St. Louis Hawks did not finish first in the West for the first time in five years.
    • A combination of injuries, chemistry issues, inconsistent personnel, and piss-poor defense contributed to their abysmal drop – twenty-two less wins than last season!
  • The Boston Celtics‘ sixty-win total was the first instance of such in NBA history.
  • Unsurprisingly, the expansion Chicago Packers finished at the bottom of the league.
    • Their offense somewhat mirrored the Philadelphia Warriors‘ in Wilt Chamberlain’s first two seasons – their star, Walt Bellamy, accounted for an absurd amount of the team’s points and their offense was quite stale otherwise.

Notable Movement

Key

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

#TeamPlayer
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Chicago Packers
New York Knicks
Cincinnati Royals
Detroit Pistons
Los Angeles Lakers
Syracuse Nationals
Philadelphia Warriors
St. Louis Hawks
Boston Celtics
Chicago Packers
Walt Bellamy
Tom Stith
Larry Siegfried
Ray Scott
Wayne Yates
Ben Warley +
Tom Meschery
Cleo Hill
Gary Phillips
Jack Turner

Other Personnel

DatePersonTeamActionStats
May 8, 1961Coach Carl BraunNew York KnicksFiredRecord: 21-58
May 8, 1961Coach Eddie DonovanNew York KnicksHiredRecord: 29-51
August 2, 1961Coach Frank McGuirePhiladelphia WarriorsHiredRecord: 49-31
November 18, 1961Coach Paul SeymourSt. Louis HawksFiredRecord: 5-9
November 20, 1961Coach Andrew LevaneSt. Louis HawksHiredRecord: 20-40
March 9, 1962Player-coach Bob PettitSt. Louis HawksHiredRecord: 4-2
March 13, 1962Coach Harry GallatinSt. Louis HawksHiredRecord: n/a

Retirements

PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Dick GarmakerMinneapolis Lakers
New York Knicks
1x All-NBA
4x All-Star
Jack GeorgePhiladelphia Warriors
New York Knicks
1x Champ
1x All-Team
2x All-Star
Bill SharmanBoston Celtics4x Champ
7x All-NBA
8x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP

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.

Key

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)

StatLeaders
PPGWilt Chamberlain (50.4)
Walt Bellamy (31.6)
Bob Pettit (31.1)
Oscar Robertson (30.8)
Jerry West (30.8)
RPGWilt Chamberlain (25.6)
Bill Russell (23.6)
Walt Bellamy (19)
Bob Pettit (18.7)
Red Kerr (14.7)
APGOscar Robertson (11.4)
Guy Rodgers (8)
Bob Cousy (7.8)
Richie Guerin (6.9)
Gene Shue (5.8)
FG%Walt Bellamy (51%)
Wilt Chamberlain (50%)
Jack Twyman (47%)
Oscar Robertson (47%)
Al Attles (47%)
FT%Dolph Schayes (89%)
Willie Naulls (84%)
Larry Costello (83%)
Cliff Hagan (82%)
Frank Ramsey (82%)

Playoffs

Semifinals

East / Philadelphia Warriors beat Syracuse Nationals, 3-2
1962 marked three years of Syracuse playing Philadelphia in the first round. They had both advanced once, making this a rivalry tiebreaker of sorts.

Game 1 featured an uncharacteristically poor night from the field for Chamberlain, but Arizin kept the Warriors afloat with forty-three points. They proceeded to win again right after, heading to Syracuse up 2-0.

The Nationals took both games on their homecourt – the third was won by one point, featuring big performances from Lee Shaffer and Dolph Schayes. Game 4 was a balanced team victory, while nobody on the Warriors did particularly well – even Chamberlain underperformed heavily.

However, Wilt bounced back with an all-time great performance in the decisive Game 5, delivering a playoff record fifty-six points and thirty-five rebounds to take the series. The Nationals defense could not contain him enough to prosper, and Schayes in particular looked awful – three points was his only offensive contribution.
West / Detroit Pistons beat Cincinnati Royals, 3-1
The Royals were back in playoff city for the first time since 1958, ready to make an impact with their three All-Stars. What nobody expected was for them to get gentleman’s swept by a losing team – yet under low odds, it happened.

The first game was won by the Pistons by a single point, with rookie forward Ray Scott leading the way. Cincinnati managed to split the series at home behind a thirty-three point triple-double from Oscar Robertson, but their offense dissolved come Game 3. Jack Twyman shot poorly and Wayne Embry had little offensive impact, leaving Robertson as the sole satisfactory star performer.

The Royals stayed toe-to-toe with Detroit to force a tie, but the Pistons won off of a single point yet again – they had broken their first-round exit curse, leaving Cincinnati with some decisions to make regarding their clutch-time strategies.

Division Finals

East / Boston Celtics beat Philadelphia Warriors, 4-3
The Celtics were a considerably worse offensive team than the Warriors during the regular season, but their plan to water down Philadelphia was clear – let Chamberlain get what he wants and prevent others from creating.

It was a successful approach in Game 1, as they blew the Warriors out of the water despite a relatively good Chamberlain game. Philadelphia responded a few days later, going absolutely ballistic from the field while the Celtics – particularly Bill Russell and Sam Jones – were ice-cold.

The teams continued to exchange wins. It was clear Chamberlain would get his, even with the best defender in the NBA on him – meanwhile, Boston’s efforts to nullify Philadelphia’s supporting cast were effective. It was not enough to avoid Game 7, but still neutralized the dominance of a Chamberlain who only saw one bad game up to that point.

In the tiebreaker, it was truly unknown who would emerge Division Champions. The Celtics were at home, but the Warriors had some threatening momentum. Ultimately, both teams looked timid – Tom Meschery of Philadelphia was the only scorer on fire, with even Chamberlain disappearing. His fifteen field goal attempts was abysmal in comparison to the twenty-eight or so he averaged prior.

The Big Dipper did put in clutch efforts though, scoring five straight to tie the game – overtime seemed at hand. Newly appointed All-Star Sam Jones was given the final scoring opportunity for Boston, and some uncharacteristically lazy defense from Philadelphia’s Tom Gola left Jones with a lot of open space. His elbow jumper went in with one second left and secured the Celtics their sixth consecutive Finals appearance.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Detroit Pistons, 4-2
The underdog Pistons had a lot to prove against the West’s newest top seed, but they were left in the dust, down 0-3 relatively quickly.

L.A.’s one-two punch of Elgin Baylor and Jerry West was a practically unstoppable force, as only one of them needed to have a good game to win. Not like that was going to happen anyway, though – the two combined for over sixty points per game in their first three wins. Meanwhile, nobody on the Pistons could consistently get buckets on a game-to-game basis.

Detroit finally managed to pull out one of their infamous single-point wins at home, preventing a sweep. Baylor and West got eighty-six points together, but there was hardly any contribution elsewhere. The Pistons continued to succeed with team play on the road in Game 5, before bowing out to the California squad the next contest.

Finals

Boston Celtics beat Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3
During the regular season, the Lakers weren’t too much of a concern for Boston. However, it is worth considering that a lot of L.A.’s losses to the Celtics were with Baylor missing – when him and West both played well together, they could stomp on anyone.

The first two games of the Finals were proof – an ugly showing from West in Game 1 influenced a loss, while him and Baylor combining for seventy-six points screamed victory. In Game 3, West stole the ball from a Sam Jones inbound pass and hit a buzzer beater to go up 2-1 – shortly after, the Celtics tied the series in frustration.

After the two teams split games in Los Angeles, they went back to Boston tied. The Celtics seemed ripe for a win, but Elgin Baylor had other plans – sixty-one points was his contribution, breaking the all-time record for single scoring in a playoff game that Chamberlain just set a month ago.

With the Lakers up 3-2 after Baylor’s heroism, it was all-or-nothing for the Celtics on the road. They had a good chance of seeing their championship streak snapped. Sam Jones continued using his clutch gene and dropped thirty-five points on elite efficiency to will his squad to a Game 6 victory. The green team was approaching another Game 7.

Operations were as usual in the tiebreaker at Beantown – West and Baylor ate, Jones was locked in, and neither team could create box score separation. Russell even dropped thirty points to offset horrible shooting splits from several of his teammates – Cousy and Heinsohn looked particularly tense for seasoned veterans.

In the final moments, Lakers guard Hot Rod Hundley made a pass to Frank Selvy, a notoriously good shooter. Selvy had the chance to win the Lakers their sixth championship with an open baseline jumper, but clanked the shot and witnessed his team crumble in overtime. The Celtics were given a lucky break, emerging victorious yet again after playing all fourteen potential matches in their post-season run.
The Boston Celtics win the 1962 NBA championship!

Awards

Notes
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
Walt BellamyBill Russell

All-NBA

All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Oscar Robertson
Jerry West
Elgin Baylor
Bob Pettit
Wilt Chamberlain
Bob Cousy
Richie Guerin
Jack Twyman
Tom Heinsohn
Bill Russell

All-Stars

Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Paul Arizin
Wilt Chamberlain
Larry Costello
Bob Cousy
Tom Gola
Johnny Green (IR)
Hal Greer
Richie Guerin
Tom Heinsohn
Sam Jones (IR)
Willie Naulls
Bill Russell
Dolph Schayes
Elgin Baylor
Walt Bellamy
Wayne Embry
Cliff Hagan
Bailey Howell
Rudy LaRusso (IR)
Bob Pettit*
Oscar Robertson
Frank Selvy
Jack Twyman
Gene Shue
Jerry West
West beats East, 150-130

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

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

TeamCountYears
Lakers51949, 1950
1952, 1953
1954
Celtics51957, 1959
1960, 1961
1962
Warriors21947, 1956
Royals11951
76ers11955
Hawks11958

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