The Celtics had fought off the challenge of the 76ers in the previous year's Eastern Division Finals, but Philadelphia was ready to cause more problems for Boston this season. A rookie forward from North Carolina named Billy Cunningham made an immediate contribution, averaging 14.3 ppg and joining Wilt Chamberlain, Chet Walker and Lucious Jackson up front, Hal Greer and second-year man Wali Jones manned the backcourt. During the season, the 76ers beat the Celtics six times in 10 meetings, and eventually won 55 games, taking the Eastern Division title away from the Celtics for the first time in 10 years. Chamberlain led the league in scoring for what would prove to be the last time, averaging 33.5 ppg and becoming the NBA's all-time leading scorer, passing Bob Pettit.

For the Playoffs, though, the Celtics had added incentive: Red Auerbach had announced that he would retire from the bench to the front office after the season. Boston recovered from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Cincinnati in five games, then moved on to play Philadelphia, which had been resting for two weeks. The 76ers proved rusty and the Celtics disposed of them in five games, costing Coach Dolph Schayes his job in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, the Lakers sweated out a seven-game Western Finals series over the Hawks to advance to meet Boston. LA took the opener in overtime in Boston, but the Celtics won the next three and, though the Lakers fought back to tie the series, Boston gave Auerbach his desired sendoff, his eighth straight NBA title.

Auerbach handed over the reins to his most able hands -- Bill Russell.

AUERBACH NAMES RUSSELL HIS SUCCESSOR
In addition to having some of the best players in the world at the time, Auerbach had beaten opponents for years with mind games, always knowing what buttons to push to frustrate or even infuriate the opposition. When the Lakers took Game 1 of the 1966 Finals in overtime, Auerbach pulled out a trump card, announcing that Bill Russell would succeed him as head coach of the Celtics. Russell would become the first black head coach in a major American sports league.

The bombshell announcement had the desired the effect: the inspired Celtics went on to capture an eighth straight NBA Championship, the ninth for Boston in 10 seasons.