Hall of Fame Class of 2012: Chet Walker
On the night of April 11, 1967, the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics met in Philly for a game that remains, to this day, one of the greatest of the two teams' half-decade long rivalry. In what would be the deciding game of the Eastern Division Finals, the Celtics, down one win to three in the series, were desperately seeking to avoid elimination and continue their incredible 10-year run of NBA Finals appearances.
Philadelphia crushed Boston 140-116 to advance to its first Finals appearance since moving to the city from Syracuse four seasons prior.
Eight current Hall of Famers took the floor in that game – Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, and Billy Cunningham for the Sixers, and Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, John Havlicek, and Bailey Howell for the Celtics.
Friday, each team will have another Hall of Famer added to the already impressive tally from that game.
For the Celtics, Don Nelson, a near life-long Celtic (as a player) and the winningest head coach in NBA history (1,335 regular season wins), will become the ninth member of those memorable 1966-67 Sixer and Celtic squads to have his name enshrined in Springfield, Mass.
Number 10 will be a player whose absence from the Hall to this point has been a point of soreness for many Sixer fans who remember watching the 6-6 guard-forward as he combined with Chamerlain and Greer to form one of the best trios the NBA had ever seen – Chet Walker.
Walker, a supreme athlete, smooth jump shooter, and crafty ball-handler, played seven years for the franchise – one for the Syracuse Nationals and six as a member of the 76ers. In the 1967 postseason, he averaged 21.7 points per game on an impressive 46.7% from the floor en route to an 11-4 postseason record and the second of three NBA championships for the franchise.
That team didn't find its way into the record books only by virtue of its postseason success. The 68-14 regular season record posted by the Sixers that season was the best the NBA had ever seen (besting the Celtics' 62 wins during the 1964-65 season); it still holds as the fourth-most single-season wins in league history, nearly 50 years later.
But Chet Walker, now a 72-year-old man, had abandoned nearly all hope of joining his team and three Hall of Fame teammates in the record books.
“I guess I was kind of surprised (when I received the call from the Hall of Fame), because I had been nominated something like seven times before (but never received enough votes),” Walker told Jeff Thomas of The Repubican earlier this summer. “I had almost given up on it.”
But quitting is not something Walker knows much about. During his NBA career, he was always the consummate professional. His career 47.0% field-goal percentage, his pace of 18.2 points and 7.0 rebounds per game from a perimeter position, and the fact that he missed just 21 games as a pro, despite dealing with chronic injury late in his career, earned him the respect of his teammates and the opponents he faced throughout his 13 years in the league.
When former teammate and current Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham welcomes Walker into his exclusive fraternity Friday, Chet "The Jet" will finally be where he belongs – among the 13 former 76ers already immortalized in Springfield, Mass.