The NBA Time Machine: 1966

Published February 10, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:

Eastern Emergence

Here Comes the 76ers!

Last regular season, the Philadelphia 76ers were an incredibly run-of-the-mill team. They had an even 40-40 record and finished right in the middle of both offensive and defensive rating, even after acquiring Wilt Chamberlain. However, their gentleman’s sweep in the first round of the playoffs and ability to push the Boston Celtics to seven games materialized them as perhaps a better team than everyone thought.

Philly looked better to start the year, but still not overwhelmingly dominant – it wasn’t until a shocking hot streak after the All-Star Game that they began to push for the NBA‘s best record. They went on a 30-10 run to close the year, including eleven consecutive victories in the month of March.

Having such a composed finish won them the Eastern Division first seed and instant homecourt, privileges traditionally associated with the Celtics.

Score On, Score On

Wilt Chamberlain became the league’s all-time leading scorer this year, eclipsing the 20,000 mark and taking over the now-retired Bob Pettit’s place. The center did this in spite of averaging a career low in points and high in assists – his offensive value was not only irreplaceable, but malleable.

Standout Players

Wilt Chamberlain

Now surrounded by an improved Philly team, Chamberlain continued to dominate. He won his seventh straight scoring title, led in rebounding again after losing the crown for a couple years, and averaged career highs in assists and efficiency. The 76ers finished with the number one seed in the East, usurping the Celtics for the first time in a decade – this won Chamberlain his second M.V.P.

Jerry West

With Elgin Baylor producing the worst year of his career yet, West had to continue growing. He delivered career highs in points and assists, also appearing in all but one game. This was his first season being voted as the runner-up for M.V.P.

Oscar Robertson

Robertson’s days of nearly averaging a triple double were over – teammate Jerry Lucas ate up the boards, dropping his average to 7.7. That meant nothing to the legendary guard, who still managed to impact winning at a high level – the Royals snagged their fifth straight forty-win campaign.

Rick Barry

The eventual Rookie of the Year embodied potential from the get go. Barry’s offensive game was mesmerizing, and also clearly beneficial – the Warriors improved by eighteen games and were only a single match short of a playoff berth. The loss of Wilt still lingered in The Bay, but fans had someone new to bet on.

Bill Russell

For the first time since 1958, Russell wasn’t much of an M.V.P. candidate. He hit career lows in scoring and efficiency, and gave up the rebounding title to rival Wilt Chamberlain after two straight years of winning it. Despite this, the Celtics remained a threat – they finished with the second best record in the NBA and still posted the best defense.

Jerry Lucas

Cincinnati continued to depend on Lucas more, with him averaging his highest numbers in minutes and field goal attempts to date. This demand tanked his efficiency a bit, but he was still unequivocally the best forward in the NBA. He joined Chamberlain, Barry, Walt Bellamy, and Zelmo Beaty as a special group to finish top ten in both points and rebounds per game.

Around the League

Team Standings

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

Eastern DivisionWLWestern DivisionWL
Philadelphia 76ers*5525Los Angeles Lakers*4535
Boston Celtics*5426Baltimore Bullets*3842
Cincinnati Royals*4535St. Louis Hawks*3644
New York Knicks3050San Francisco Warriors3545
Detroit Pistons2258

Fun Facts

  • For the first time since 1956, a team besides the Boston Celtics led the league in record.
  • In reference to the late-fifties, the Western Division was quite awful – the Los Angeles Lakers were the only winning team in it.
  • The New York Knicks experienced growing pains – the arrival of Walt Bellamy mid-season gave them some helpful depth at the center position, but disrupted the development of sophomore Willis Reed.
    • They also finished with the worst defense in the league – a strange quirk for such a strong frontcourt on paper.

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

San Francisco Warriors
New York Knicks
Detroit Pistons
San Francisco Warriors
New York Knicks
Baltimore Bullets
Philadelphia 76ers
St. Louis Hawks
Cincinnati Royals
Los Angeles Lakers
Fred Hetzel
Bill Bradley* +
Bill Buntin*
Rick Barry
Dave Stallworth
Jerry Sloan
Billy Cunningham
Jim Washington
Nate Bowman +
Gail Goodrich*


November 2, 1965Walt BellamyBaltimore BulletsTradedNew York Knicks(19p/12.8r/2.3a)
November 2, 1965Johnny GreenNew York KnicksTradedBaltimore Bullets(14.4p/10.6r/1.6a)

Other Personnel

November 29, 1965Coach Harry GallatinNew York KnicksFiredRecord: 6-15
November 29, 1965Coach Dick McGuireNew York KnicksHiredRecord: 24-35
March 22, 1966Coach Alex HannumSan Francisco WarriorsFiredRecord: 35-45
March 22, 1966Coach Bill SharmanSan Francisco WarriorsHiredRecord: n/a
April 18, 1966Coach Red AuerbachBoston CelticsExpected to retireRecord: 54-26
April 18, 1966Player-coach Bill RussellBoston CelticsHired Record: n/a
April 28, 1966Coach Paul SeymourBaltimore BulletsFiredRecord: 38-42
April 28, 1966Coach Mike FarmerBaltimore BulletsHired Record: n/a


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Tom HeinsohnBoston Celtics6x Champion
4x All-NBA
6x All-Star
1957 Rookie of the Year
Bob PettitSt. Louis Hawks1x Champion
2x MVP
11x All-NBA
11x All-Star

4x All-Star Game MVP
1955 Rookie of the Year
2x Scoring Leader
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)

PPGWilt Chamberlain (33.5)
Jerry West (31.3)
Oscar Robertson (31.3)
Rick Barry (25.7)
Sam Jones (23.5)
RPGWilt Chamberlain (24.6)
Bill Russell (22.8)
Jerry Lucas (21.1)
Nate Thurmond (18)
Walt Bellamy (15.7)
APGOscar Robertson (11.1)
Guy Rodgers (10.7)
K.C. Jones (6.3)
Lenny Wilkens (6.2)
Jerry West (6.1)
FG%Wilt Chamberlain (54%)
Johnny Green (53%)
Walt Bellamy (50%)
Al Attles (50%)
Happy Hairston (48%)
FT%Larry Siegfried (88%)
Rick Barry (86%)
Howard Komives (86%)
Jerry West (86%)
Adrian Smith (85%)



East / Boston Celtics beat Cincinnati Royals, 3-2
For the first time under Bill Russell’s tenure, the Celtics had to play in the semifinals. Due to clinching the first seed for the past nine seasons, they always got a “bye” and were to be met in the second round – this time, there was more heavy lifting to do.

Cincinnati brought forth an upset in Game 1, boasting a road win behind the seventy-three combined points of their All-Stars. Game 2 was a duel between Oscar Robertson and Sam Jones that featured well over thirty points from both – this evened the series, only for the two teams to continue swapping victories until the tiebreaker.

Boston locked in for Game 5, limiting their rotation to seven players and seeing quality play from all of them. Bill Russell unsurprisingly put up a great performance, posting a triple-double with thirty-one rebounds – this sent the Royals home in the opening series for the second straight year.
West / St. Louis Hawks beat Baltimore Bullets, 3-0
A two-point loss at home was an instant demotivator for Baltimore, who narrowly struggled despite shooting better from the field than St. Louis. Their rim protection was much weaker with Walt Bellamy gone, which excited talented Hawks scorers such as Lenny Wilkens and Joe Caldwell. However, a second straight defeat confirmed that the Bullets were ill-prepared for the playoffs – despite their excellent shot selection, they could not draw fouls nearly as well as their opponent.

A eventual sweep from the Hawks was unsurprising, given they hosted Game 3 – their offense was thriving, and the retirement of Bob Pettit began to appear less destructive by the day.

Division Finals

East / Boston Celtics beat Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1
For the first time since they began winning championships, Boston did not look like the favorites in the Eastern Division Finals. They finished below the 76ers in the regular season, and were now fighting an uphill battle due to homecourt disadvantage and wear-and-tear from Cincinnati.

All of that noise was non-existent to the reigning champions, who generated a blowout by nineteen points in enemy territory. Their depth was staggering, and the 76ers looked pitiful defensively. The second match was a repeat narrative – Philadelphia shot an embarrassing thirty-five percent from the field and gave up over one-hundred points. Wilt Chamberlain also got thoroughly outmatched by his long-time rival Bill Russell, who was one assist short of a triple-double.

The 76ers managed to win Game 3 thanks to much-improved shooting and a dominant Chamberlain outing, but their defense remained suspicious. The final two meetings were both victories by Boston – Chamberlain scored a pathetic fifteen points in Game 4, which left his team down 3-1. He responded with forty-six points and thirty-four rebounds in the succeeding win-or-go-home match, but his efforts arrived far too late – Boston completely contained the Philadelphia supporting cast, which ensured an upset series win.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat St. Louis Hawks, 4-3
For the first time since 1963, the Lakers and Hawks went to war fighting for a Finals appearance. L.A. opened matters up wih two quick victories – Elgin Baylor looked much improved following a bad regular season, dropping a game-leading forty-two points in Game 2 and only being one assist short of a triple-double. The Hawks relaxed the momentum with a reactive win, largely led by power forward Bill Bridges.

The Lakers managed a road win to go up 3-1 on their competition, and looked prepared for a solid gentleman’s sweep. St. Louis had other ideas – to force a tiebreaker, they won consecutive high-stakes matches behind high efficiency, beautiful ball movement, and Lenny Wilkens’ first playoff triple-double in three years.

The Game 7 in California was a classic Lakers tale – Jerry West and Elgin Baylor were the game’s two highest scorers, combining for eighty-eight points and shutting down the aspirations of the Missouri veterans.


Boston Celtics beat Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3
Five total Finals matchups, four in the past five seasons. It was undeniable that the Lakers-Celtics rivalry was the greatest in NBA history at this point – however, the Celtics routinely owned their foes, which put a lot of pressure on L.A. to bring a championship to California.

A shocking opening victory was spearheaded by Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, torching Boston in spite of great showings from Bill Russell and Sam Jones. Auerbach’s defensive adjustments were monumental as always, holding the two to a combined thirty-one points two days later. The Celtics amassed consecutive wins en route to a 3-1 lead – Russell looked unstoppable, Jones got buckets on buckets, and Baylor had cooled off scoring-wise.

Los Angeles took a page out of the Hawks’ book afterwards, forcing a Game 7 thanks to improvement from Baylor and sustained dominance from West. Rookie Gail Goodrich also posted a hefty twenty-eight points in the sixth match to ward off defeat.

Game 7 featured immediate dominance from the Celtics, but the Lakers assembled a mid-game comeback that brought affairs down to the wire. They could not close things out, going down by a measly two points – West had the best Finals series of his career, but Baylor’s consistency looked like a legitimate long-term problem at this point.

Fighting against the odds, Boston clinched an eighth straight title – nobody knew when, or if, they would stop tormenting professional basketball.
The Boston Celtics win the 1966 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 YearMVPCoach of the Year
Rick BarryWilt ChamberlainDolph Schayes


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Oscar Robertson
Jerry West
Rick Barry
Jerry Lucas
Wilt Chamberlain
Hal Greer
Sam Jones
John Havlicek
Gus Johnson
Bill Russell


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Wilt Chamberlain
Hal Greer
John Havlicek
Sam Jones
Jerry Lucas
Willis Reed
Oscar Robertson
Bill Russell
Adrian Smith*
Chet Walker
Rick Barry
Zelmo Beaty
Dave DeBusschere
Bailey Howell
Rudy LaRusso
Eddie Miles
Don Ohl

Guy Rodgers
Nate Thurmond
Jerry West
East beats West, 137-94


All-Rookie Team
Rick Barry
Billy Cunningham
Fred Hetzel
Dick Van Arsdale
Tom Van Arsdale

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

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

Celtics91957, 1959
1960, 1961
1962, 1963
1964, 1965
Lakers51949, 1950
1952, 1953
Warriors21947, 1956

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