Published December 23, 2022
The NBA Time Machine:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.