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Wilt Chamberlain destroyed the NBA record book in 1961-62, averaging 50.4 point per game.
NBAE/Getty Images

50 years later, 1961-62 season stands tall in NBA history

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Dec 12 2011 10:09AM

Season of Giants: 1961-62
NBA.com celebrates the 50th anniversary of a legendary season
Complete Season of Giants coverage

***

They are black-and-white images that flicker clumsily across a video screen from a different time, a different era. There are no slow-motion replays, no exotic camera angles from the top of the backboard, no 3D illusions of a player jumping practically right out of his high tops and into your living room.

The NBA game was rough and raw, unrefined and unrepentant, the primitive forerunner of the colorful, acrobatic circus that fills arenas and national television schedules today. Yet for all of the sky-walking leaps of progress and the in-your-face strides that have been made over the past 50 years, the 1961-62 season stands up and stands out, a relic that might as well have been preserved in Jurassic amber.

It was a season of giants.

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It was the season that the 7-foot, -inch Wilt Chamberlain grabbed hold of the game and the record book and twisted them like a pretzel beyond all recognition.

Playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, Chamberlain scored 78 points and pulled down 43 rebounds on Dec. 8 against the Los Angeles Lakers -- and that was just a warm-up routine.

On March 2, Wilt scored his staggering 100 points against the New York Knicks.

For the season, Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game. He averaged 48.5 minutes per night in a game that last only 48 minutes because he played every second of every overtime period, too.

"All of those things are in the record books. They are facts," said Al Attles, who was Chamberlain's teammate and perhaps best friend in the NBA. "But it is hard for people to fully appreciate what Wilt did, or maybe even understand it, because it was so far beyond what we think of as extremes.

"Kobe Bryant scores 81 points in a game today and it's an anomaly, because even he doesn't do something like that very often. Wilt averaged 50 points for an entire season. I was there. I saw it. But the trouble is, most NBA fans of today didn't see it and, even if you wanted to now, all that's left are those lousy old videos in black-and-white."

It was a season when Oscar Robertson averaged a giant's triple-double with 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists.

They are numbers and his was the kind of game that would have had announcers and analysts of today swallowing their tongues in attempting to describe and quantify.

Oscar could perform all of the no-look passes and sleight-of-hand tricks of a Magic Johnson or Steve Nash, but often chose not to. Oscar could get almost as high up into the air as an Elgin Baylor or Julius Erving, but only did it when he absolutely had to.

"He was the Michael Jordan of his day in a lot of ways," the late Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach once said.

Robertson was big, he was fast, he was strong, he was smart and he was intense. He played every game as if his opponent had just stolen his wallet and it was his task to exact retribution.

If there was a reason that the Big O's game was underappreciated, maybe it was because he made it look too easy -- moving would-be defenders anyplace that he wanted on the court and then scoring over them, setting up teammates for easy hoops, picking pockets and cutting off drives to the basket at the other end, leaping out of crowds to wrap up rebounds and then starting down the floor on a fast break.

"When I look back on my career," said Hall of Famer Jerry West, "he's the greatest I ever played against. Period."

And 1961-62 was Oscar at his indisputable best.

It was a season when Walt Bellamy was the No. 1 overall draft choice of the expansion team Chicago Packers -- bringing the NBA to nine teams -- and his sensational rookie season began a 14-year career that would eventually earn him a place in the Hall of Fame.

The 6-foot-11 Bellamy came out of Indiana University to become one of only seven players in history -- along with Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Robert Parish, Moses Malone and Karl Malone -- to amass more than 20,000 points and 14,000 rebounds in his career.

Though he rang up big numbers throughout, Bellamy's 31.6 points and 19 rebounds per game averages in his first NBA season were the best in his career. He ranked behind only Chamberlain in scoring and was third in the NBA in rebounding. He was voted the starting center for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game and named Rookie of the Year.

But for all of the magnificent solo achievements and all of the high-water marks set by individuals, it was a season when the giant green dynasty of the Boston Celtics rolled on once more in the end.

Led by the most prolific winner in NBA history, defensive giant Bill Russell, the Celtics knocked off Chamberlain's Warriors in the Eastern Conference playoffs, then defeated the Lakers with West and Baylor 4-3 in the NBA Finals to win their fourth consecutive title en route to eight in a row -- and 11 in 13 years -- claiming their place as the best dynasty in American sports history.

The Celtics were at the peak of their prowess with a deep lineup that had Tom Heinsohn, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, Frank Ramsay, Satch Sanders and K.C. Jones around Russell, guided by the legendary coach Red Auerbach.

It was the first of six times in L.A. that Russell's Celtics would meet and beat the Lakers in the Finals, igniting the flame on what would grow into the long-lasting and most intense rivalry in league history that still echoes today. And despite all of the fireworks by Wilt and Oscar and Bellamy, it was Russell in the end who was named MVP.

It may exists only in black-and-white images and statistics on a page, but a half-century later a season of giants grows more impressive.

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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