NBA History: Was the 1961-1962 Season the Best Ever?
50 years ago this week, Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game against the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pennsylvania. And that seems to be the only thing anyone remembers about the 1961-62 season.
That's a mistake, as 1961-62 season was perhaps the biggest offensive explosion in the league's history. One could say that as the year 1939 was to motion pictures, '61-'62 was to basketball. Just as every studio went all-out in '39, every marquee player went huge in '61-'62.
For example, did you know that Chamberlain's 100-point game was apart of the highest scoring TEAM performance in NBA history for a number of years, and is still one of the three highest-scoring games that didn't go to overtime? Bet you didn't!
And the '61-'62 season was also huge in terms of individual achievement. There have been only 64 players to average 30 points a game in the course of a season. SIX of them did it in '61-'62 (including all five of the All-NBA First Team selections), each putting up what was arguably a career year.
Oscar Robertson, for example, poured in 30.8 points a game and threw in a then record number of assists while averaging a triple double for good measure, in what was arguably one of the best seasons by a point guard in league history.
Bob Pettit, one of the best yet most-overlooked power forwards in the history of the game, also had a really great season, laying in a career-high 31.1 points and 18.7 rebounds. In 1962, he was well on his way to becoming the first NBA player to 20,000 points. Pettit also won the All-Star Game MVP.
What was the greatest accomplishment of the 1961-62 season?
Rookie of the Year Walt Bellamy, playing on the expansion Chicago Packers, was second in the league in scoring with 31.6 PPG, which is one of the 30 best single-season performances of all time (Bellamy is one of those players who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He spent most of his career in smaller markets like Baltimore and Atlanta, and playing opposite Wilt and Kareem, never made an All-NBA team).
Elgin Baylor was limited by military service to 48 games, but he made them count, averaging 38 points a game in the ones he played. Jerry West also averaged 30 points a game.
Chamberlain, of course, poured in over 50 points a game, becoming the only player to score 4,000 points in a season—although, to be fair, he also set a likely insurmountable record in minutes played and field goals attempted in a season.
Perhaps the ultimate irony of the 1961-62 season is that, despite the widespread offensive explosion, the MVP went to none of them, but to defensive-minded Bill Russell, whose Celtics won the NBA title over West and Baylor's Lakers in seven games.
So, what was responsible for this offensive explosion? Well, for one, players played an insane amount of minutes: many of the day's superstars averaged 42 or more.
In addition, the NBA was facing competition from an upstart league called the ABL, which was founded by Abe Saperstein (the owner of one of its Cleveland franchise was a fellow who would be heard from again). And the intersection of the careers of so many great players couldn't have hurt.
Regardless of the reasons, the '61-62 was still the best ever.
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