image from the700level.com
In the summer of 1966, Alex Hannum was hired to coach the 76ers. He had led Wilt’s 1964 San Francisco Warriors to the NBA Finals, and was the only coach to have won a playoff series from a Russell team with the 1958 St. Louis Hawks.
He was inheriting a 55-win team and was replacing the NBA’s Coach of the Year.
His mandate, clearly, was to win a championship; nothing less would suffice.
Through 50 games, Coach Hannum’s squad had fashioned five winning streaks of at least seven games, the streaks interrupted by lone defeats. In the standings, that read 46-4, .920. Absent a 12-game fortnight (or so) of .500 ball, these Sixers won 62 of 69, an astounding .899 clip.
Boston’s 60 victories—for a rookie coach, let’s bear in mind—seem pedestrian in comparison.
Whether Hannum pushed the right buttons or an extraordinarily talented team had simply arrived at its moment in time, Philly adopted a pressing, fast-breaking style of play, in the image of their nemesis.
For the fourth time in his career and second consecutive year, Wilt led the league in field-goal percentage—a whopping 68.3 percent. (Only two other guys shot over 50 percent.) He had separate streaks of 32 and 35 field goals without a miss.
Six Sixers averaged double-figure scoring, four at 18 points or more.
Not even a serious mid-season injury to veteran guard Larry Costello slowed their roll, as hometown favorite Wali Jones seized onto opportunity when it knocked.
Philadelphia led the league in field-goal percentage, free-throw attempts, scoring and margin of victory.
In addition to his outrageous shooting, Wilt led the league in rebounding and was third in assists.
The team’s 68 wins was unprecedented in league annals.
But neither the 76ers nor their star had ever beaten a Bill Russell team in a playoff series, including a disappointing 4-1 loss in 1966 on the heels of a splendid, division-winning regular season.
Former coach/GM Red Auerbach had added two veterans, sharp-shooting forward Bailey Howell and rugged postman Wayne Embry, to his successor’s arsenal, and the defending champs had won five of the nine regular season matchups, each team winning twice on the other guys’ floor—the 76ers only Philly losses of the season.
Opening-round 3-1 dispatchings of the inconsistent Royals and the not-ready-for-prime-time Knicks assured the “thREe-match” for the Eastern Division crown.
Determined finally to win a Game 1 from Boston, Wilt produced a gem: 24 points, 32 rebounds, 13 assists and 12 blocks. Hal Greer’s 39-point contribution to the 127-113 rout was quiet in comparison.
The Sixers had affixed a firm grasp on Game 2 in Boston as well, until a scrappy second unit sliced a 14-point deficit to one in the waning minutes. Instead of reinserting regulars Sam Jones and Bailey Howell, however, Coach Russell opted to stick with what was working. But the magic had worn off and the 76ers righted the ship, taking a 107-102 decision.
For Game 3, the younger legs of John Havlicek and Larry Siegfried were starting for Boston, but 30 Greer points and 41 Chamberlain rebounds later, the Sixers had a 115-104 victory and an insurmountable 3-0 series lead.
A champion’s pride, 60 or so points from Sam and Hondo, or maybe just the law of averages produced a 121-117 Game 4 Boston survival, but Wilt took them off life support with another monster game—29 points, 36 rebounds, 13 assists—in the 140-116 clincher.
Boston was dead but soon studying up on reincarnation.