Posted Jul 7 2011 9:34AM
• 1967 Sixers: The best team ever
Everyone knew Wilt Chamberlain could score -- he had won seven consecutive scoring titles and once had averaged 50.4 ppg for an entire season. But it took Alex Hannum to convince Chamberlain that just putting points on the board wouldn't get him a championship ring.
Hannum, a solid player in the league's early years and an outstanding coach with 649 NBA and ABA victories to his credit, is the answer to a trivia question: Who coached the only two teams to defeat the Boston Celtics in playoff series during the Bill Russell era, the 13 seasons from 1956-57 through 1968-69 during which Boston won 11 championships? It was Hannum who was at the helm of the St. Louis Hawks in 1958 when they beat the Celtics in six games, with Hall of Famer Bob Pettit getting 19 of his team's last 21 points and 50 points in all in the Hawks' 110-109 clinching victory. And it was Hannum who was hired by the Philadelphia 76ers prior to the 1966-67 season, succeeding Dolph Schayes, as the Sixers attempted to end Boston's string of eight consecutive championships.
Hannum had a lot of talent to work with, but he knew the key to success was Chamberlain, an unstoppable basketball force if ever there was one. Chamberlain and Schayes were never really on the same page, but Hannum had coached Chamberlain earlier in San Francisco and the two had achieved a solid working relationship. Chamberlain would call Hannum the best coach he ever played for, and Hannum knew how to keep his big center happy and still get the results he wanted. That was evident in 1966-67, when Hannum convinced Chamberlain that with all the other talented scorers on the team, he should focus his talents on other aspects of the game. That can be a hard sell to a seven-time scoring champ, but Chamberlain bought into the philosophy and the result was one of the greatest teams of all time.
Chamberlain's scoring averaged dipped to 24.1 ppg, but he led the league in rebounding (24.2 rpg) and field goal percentage (.683) and ranked third in assists (7.8 apg). Without Chamberlain dominating the ball, other scorers emerged in forward Chet Walker (19.3 ppg), guard Hal Greer (22.1 ppg) and sixth man Billy Cunningham (18.5 ppg). Luke Jackson (11.8 ppg, 10.6 rpg) was an intimidating presence at power forward who seemed to sweep up any rebound Chamberlain might miss. Wali Jones was the other starting guard, and the bench featured Billy Melchionni as well as future NBA head coaches Matt Guokas, Larry Costello and Cunningham.
Philadelphia won 45 of its first 49 games and romped to a 68-13 regular season record, at the time the best in NBA history. The Sixers beat out Boston by eight games for the Atlantic Division title, and the writing was on the wall: The Celtics' string of championships was about to end. Boston was no match for Philadelphia when they met in the Eastern Division Finals, winning only Game 4 at home after the 76ers had grabbed control of the series with three straight wins. Philadelphia pounded Boston 140-116 in Game 5 to finish things off, then moved on to an almost anti-climactic NBA Finals in which the 76ers defeated the San Francisco Warriors in six games for the title.
During the NBA's 35th anniversary celebration in 1980, the 1966-67 Philadelphia club was chosen as the greatest team of all time. Chamberlain was the league's MVP, but Hannum was denied Coach of the Year honors, which instead went to Johnny Kerr for leading the expansion Chicago Bulls to 33 wins in their inaugural season.