The NBA Time Machine: 1968

Published March 11, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:

Working West

Twelve, YoU Say?

After the expansion Chicago Bulls team proved to be an initial success, the league continued to entertain growth in club size. This time around, the west coast got a couple more representatives – the Californian San Diego Rockets, and northwestern Seattle SuperSonics.

The choice for San Diego was inspired by a motivating love for sports in the area, particularly for hockey. With the San Diego International Sports Center considered, the potential for a franchise was high – profit presented itself at every corner.

Regarding other matters, a pair of Los Angeles businessmen – who happened to own the AFL’s San Diego Chargers – were awarded with an NBA franchise, inspiring the move to Seattle. The name “SuperSonics” was largely based on the city’s ties to the aviation industry.

With two new teams in the Western Division, the Detroit Pistons were moved to the East.

Rising Waters

After the American Basketball Association (ABA)’s development in the past year, it finally begun play this season with bold goals of challenging the NBA. The opportunity to start anew excited many established talents, most notably Rick Barry of the San Francisco Warriors.

Due to a mouth-watering contract deal that involved profits exceeding over half a million dollars, Barry was convinced to join the ABA’s Oakland Oaks. This was an easy decision for the talented forward – not only did he have tension with Warriors owner Franklin Mieuli, but he could also play for his former coach and father-in-law Bruce Hale in the rival league.

Barry was ultimately held back from playing due to a one-year contract option exercised by the Warriors, but they had already lost his loyalty. That marked the second superstar in four years they gave up to stingy ownership, with the other being Wilt Chamberlain three years prior.

More and More Games!

The league made a decision to increase the game total from eighty-one to eighty-two games.

Playoff series were also expanded in size. Prior to this season, teams in the first round only needed three wins to advance – the total was increased to four to remain consistent with the Division Finals and Finals.


While the league pace hardly decreased, players were generally less productive. This can be attributed to the sixties’ favorite superstars aging, which influenced the reduction in ludicrous stat-lines. Nobody scored over thirty points per game for the first time since 1959, and nobody reached over ten assists per game for the first time since 1961.

As far as exciting statistical news went, though, Wilt Chamberlain became the first center of all-time to lead the league in total assists.

Standout Players

Wilt Chamberlain

Chamberlain continued his reign as a newly refined player, continuing to raise his assist totals – this year, he led the NBA in total assists. This, in tandem with another great 76ers campaign, earned Chamberlain his third straight M.V.P.

Elgin Baylor

With Jerry West missing over twenty games to injury, Baylor was forced to step up. He had silently accepted the “second option” role in the past few seasons, but this year proved he was still a superstar that could lead a successful team.

Oscar Robertson

While the Royals continued trending downwards, Robertson was still phenomenal. The point guard became the first player in NBA history to lead the league in both scoring and assists averages, and he was the best free throw shooter as well. His status as a generational offensive talent was well beyond solidified.

Dave Bing

Bing’s sophomore season was a much-embraced success by Pistons fans. He increased his points average by seven per game, while also greatly improving as a playmaker. His focus led Detroit to their first playoff appearance in five years.

Lenny Wilkens

Wilkens had always been a quality star, but his development into the Hawks’ commander was remarkable. He led St. Louis to an unprecedented fifty-six wins, which was a seventeen-game improvement and good for first in the West. His exceptional passing abilities elevated the play of everybody on the roster.

Bill Russell

Russell continued to tread through the regular season silently, now putting up his worst numbers to date. He saw career low averages in scoring and rebounding, finishing with under twenty boards per game for the first time. Despite these struggles, the Celtics finished with the second seed in the East under his guidance as a player-coach.

Around the League

Team Standings

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

Eastern DivisionWLWestern DivisionWL
Philadelphia 76ers*6220St. Louis Hawks*5626
Boston Celtics*5428Los Angeles Lakers*5230
New York Knicks*4339San Francisco Warriors*4339
Detroit Pistons*4042Chicago Bulls*2953
Cincinnati Royals3943Seattle SuperSonics2359
Baltimore Bullets3646San Diego Rockets1567

Fun Facts

  • After losing their last match of the season to the New York Knicks, the Cincinnati Royals missed the playoffs by one game.
    • This was the first time the franchise had failed to see the post-season since 1961, which was Oscar Robertson’s rookie year.
  • There was a subtle “brag” moment for the St. Louis Hawks – this was the first season since their first (1950) that they finished with a better record than their fierce rival, the Boston Celtics.
  • The Boston Celtics finished below first in defensive rating for the first time since signing Bill Russell – this honor was now held by rival Wilt Chamberlain’s Philadelphia 76ers.
  • The Western Division’s diluted competition was on full display.
    • The Chicago Bulls – who were fourth in the West, and therefore eligible for the playoffs – would have finished seventh if they were in the Eastern Division.
  • The New York Knicks continued to slowly trend upwards, finishing with a winning record for the first time since 1959.
  • The Los Angeles Lakers’ turn-around was smooth and substantial, improving by a steep sixteen games.
    • This was the second biggest improvement in franchise history, trailing behind the record of an eighteen-game upgrade in 1962.

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.

p – points
r – rebounds
a – assists

Top Draft Picks

Detroit Pistons
Baltimore Bullets
Chicago Bulls
Detroit Pistons
New York Knicks
Seattle SuperSonics
San Diego Rockets
St. Louis Hawks
Cincinnati Royals
San Francisco Warriors
Jimmy Walker
Earl Monroe
Clem Haskins
Sonny Dove
Walt Frazier
Al Tucker
Pat Riley
Tom Workman
Mel Daniels+
Craig Raymond


August 31, 1967Rudy LaRussoDetroit PistonsRights soldSan Francisco Warriors(12.8p/7.8r/1.7a)
October 20, 1967Guy RodgersChicago BullsTradedCincinnati Royals(10.3p/3.5r/7a)
January 21, 1968Don OhlBaltimore BulletsTradedSt. Louis Hawks(14.8p/2.9r/2.2a)

Other Personnel

March 29, 1967Coach Jack McMahonCincinnati RoyalsResignedRecord: 39-42
March 29, 1967Coach Jack McMahonSan Diego RocketsHiredRecord: n/a
April 26, 1967Coach Fred SchausLos Angeles LakersRe-assignedRecord: 36-45
April 26, 1967Coach Butch Van Breda KolffLos Angeles LakersHiredRecord: n/a
May 2, 1967Coach Ed JuckerCincinnati RoyalsHiredRecord: n/a
December 27, 1967Coach Dick McGuireNew York KnicksFiredRecord: 15-23
December 27, 1967Coach Red HolzmanNew York KnicksHiredRecord: 28-16


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Rick Barry
(jumped to ABA)
San Francisco Warriors2x All-NBA
2x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP
1966 Rookie of the Year
1966 All-Rookie Team
1x Scoring Leader
Richie GuerinNew York Knicks
St. Louis Hawks
3x All-NBA
6x All-Star

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)

PPGOscar Robertson (29.2)
Dave Bing (27.1)
Elgin Baylor (26)
Wilt Chamberlain (24.3)
Earl Monroe (24.3)
RPGWilt Chamberlain (23.8)
Jerry Lucas (19)
Bill Russell (18.6)
Clyde Lee (13.9)
Ray Scott (13.7)
APGOscar Robertson (9.7)
Wilt Chamberlain (8.6)
Lenny Wilkens (8.3)
Dave Bing (6.4)
Walt Hazzard (6.2)
FG%Wilt Chamberlain (59%)
Walt Bellamy (54%)
Jerry Lucas (51%)
Jerry West (51%)
Len Chappell (51%)
FT%Oscar Robertson (87%)
Larry Siegfried (86%)
Dave Gambee (84%)
Fred Hetzel (83%)
Adrian Smith (82%)



East / Boston Celtics beat Detroit Pistons, 4-2
The Pistons’ post-season return was much like what the New York Knicks had to endure a season prior – a match-up against the Boston Celtics, which was not exactly a friendly welcome.

Surprisingly enough, the two clubs split the first four games, each winning once at home and on the road. Dave Bing was about the only consistent scorer throughout all four, but the Celtics managed to win behind their veteran experience. Game 4 was a statement victory for them, including a thirty-five-point bomb from John Havlicek and double-doubles from both Bill Russell and Don Nelson.

The Celtics eventually pulled away, largely thanks to Havlicek – he managed a triple-double in both efforts. Not even forty-four points from Bing in the decisive Game 6 was enough.
East / Philadelphia 76ers beat New York Knicks, 4-2
The first two matches were a battle between titans Wilt Chamberlain and Willis Reed, with each clinching one for their team. The 76ers managed a home win in a double-overtime brawl, denying the Knicks despite a double-double from Walt Bellamy and forty points from the sophomore Cazzie Russell.

The opposite was true three nights later – the Knicks surprisingly pulled through, staving off a 3-1 deficit. Philadelphia wrapped up business quite quickly afterwards, grabbing Game 5 thanks to having five players hitting double digits in rebounds. The closing match was a blowout, with Chamberlain and Hal Greer combining for sixty points in the road win.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Chicago Bulls, 4-1
Chicago’s chances going into this series were slim to say the least, considering Elgin Baylor and Jerry West were finally together – and healthy – in the playoffs for the first time in a few years.

They reminded the basketball world what they were made of, comfortably taking their first two games at home. Chicago managed an upset in Game 3 thanks to the young and promising point guard Flynn Robinson, who amassed forty-one points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Matters regressed to the mean moving forward, with Robinson quieting down offensively and the Lakers closing the series behind two big Baylor performances.
West / San Francisco Warriors beat St. Louis Hawks, 4-2
San Francisco was expected to be absolutely torn apart by the Hawks, who were coming off a phenomenal season and had the advantage of the Warriors missing Nate Thurmond.

They instead upset St. Louis in six games, an absolutely shocking outcome. The Warriors front office made a smart decision acquiring former All-Star Rudy LaRusso from the Pistons, who was instrumental in this matchup. Him and Jeff Mullins were the leading scorers for the team in the first four games, three of which they won. St. Louis took Game 5 to circumvent elimination, with seven of their players scoring in double digits – however, their ambitions were burned to the ground. LaRusso led San Francisco to a series victory, dropping thirty points and thirteen rebounds.

Considering the Warriors had lost a whopping seven out of eight regular season duels with the Hawks, this was a phenomenal achievement.

Division Finals

East / Boston Celtics beat Philadelphia 76ers, 4-3
An anticipated rematch between the long-term rivals was now Philadelphia’s to lose. They were the reigning champions, finished the season eight wins above Boston, and boasted a four-time M.V.P. winner in the front court.

Such variables are why the Celtics taking Game 1 on the 76ers’ home court was an immediate shock. There was good effort on both ends, too – the Philly “big three” of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, and Chet Walker combined for ninety-one points. John Havlicek just happened to be unstoppable that night, with thirty-five of his own and eleven assists influencing his squad’s victory.

It is often believed that the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. – which happened a day prior – largely interfered with the mindset and focus of the two teams, who both sported primarily African-American starting lineups. The game was described as “devoid of emotion”, perhaps explaining why Philadelphia’s home court advantage wasn’t as game-changing as usual.

Regardless of outside events, the 76ers quickly shifted the tide. Winning three straight en route to a 3-1 lead, they showcased a generational mixture of offense and defense that defined their season. That could not overpower the resilience of Boston, however – led by Havlicek, they managed to win two straight to tie the series. There was potential for a comeback from being down 3-1, something the league had never seen in over twenty years of existence.

Game 7 was baffling, to say the least. Philadelphia imploded, shooting thirty-five-percent from the field and having only Greer score above twenty points. Chamberlain was nowhere to be found offensively, only taking a measly nine field goal attempts and making four. The Celtics were just far more efficient and willing to move the ball, earning them another trip to the Finals.

It was not unreasonable to name this the most legendary playoff series of the decade.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat San Francisco Warriors, 4-0
Even with the Warriors’ excitement following an upset, it was unlikely that they could top a Lakers team clicking on all levels. A sweep was the predictable result, with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor scoring just about anything with little resistance. West in particular was nuclear, shooting over sixty-percent while averaging thirty-three points.

The post-Barry Warriors were clearly overachievers, but the great play of Fred Hetzel and Jeff Mullins was something for fans in The Bay to cherish. With a healthy Nate Thurmond, their potential was sky-high.


Boston Celtics beat Los Angeles Lakers, 4-2
Five matchups. Five Celtics championships. Los Angeles’ track record against their greatest nemesis was abysmal – if there was any chance to switch things up, it was now. Boston was getting older and losing a bit of their identity, while the Lakers had two superstars playing at an excellent level.

The first two games were split in Beantown. Jerry West and Elgin Baylor looked terrible at first, but quickly turned things around to even the series – the opposite happened in their arena, with four Celtics scoring over twenty points in Game 3 to win. West and Baylor responded with a crushing sixty-eight combined in Game 4, leaving the series tied back up north.

Game 5 was a duel between West and John Havlicek, who both scored over thirty points. West had efficiency on his side, but Havlicek nearly got a triple-double – they were both stars that won in different ways. Ultimately, the Celtics got the last laugh after a tense overtime period, waving off an L.A. comeback.

If there was any moment for the Lakers to prove themselves, it was in the decisive sixth match. They got off to a sluggish start and trailed behind for the remainder of regulation – Havlicek outplayed both of L.A.’s superstars, sporting a 40/10/7 stat-line in the blowout win. Teammate Bailey Howell also got thirty points, while Bill Russell made an impact on the glass as always.

Despite being written off, the Celtics silenced critics once again – this was their era, and they had now won ten championships in twelve years.
The Boston Celtics win the 1968 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
Earl MonroeWilt ChamberlainRichie Guerin


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Oscar Robertson
Dave Bing
Elgin Baylor
Jerry Lucas
Wilt Chamberlain
Jerry West
Hal Greer
John Havlicek
Willis Reed
Bill Russell


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Dick Barnett
Dave Bing
Wilt Chamberlain
Dave DeBusschere
Hal Greer*
John Havlicek
Gus Johnson
Sam Jones
Jerry Lucas
Willis Reed
Oscar Robertson
Bill Russell
Walt Hazzard
Elgin Baylor

Zelmo Beaty
Bob Boozer
Bill Bridges
Archie Clark
Jim King
Don Kojis
Rudy LaRusso
Clyde Lee (IR)
Nate Thurmond
Jerry West
Lenny Wilkens
East beats West, 144-124


All-Rookie Team
Walt Frazier
Phil Jackson

Earl Monroe
Bob Rule
Al Tucker

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

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

Celtics101957, 1959
1960, 1961
1962, 1963
1964, 1965
1966, 1968
Lakers51949, 1950
1952, 1953
Warriors21947, 1956
76ers21955, 1967

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