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The Celtics continued to roll up wins and titles (their second straight, and third in four years, with a seven-game win over the St. Louis Hawks in the Finals), but the league unveiled a new unstoppable force in Philadelphia rookie Wilt Chamberlain.
The NBA had seen a big man dominate before, when George Mikan’s Minneapolis Lakers won five NBA titles in six years from 1949 through 1954. But in terms of individual dominance, no one had seen anything quite like Chamberlain. At 7-foot-1 and nearly 275 pounds, he towered over Bill Russell and the other centers of his time.
In his rookie season with the Philadelphia Warriors, Chamberlain won both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player, leading the league in scoring (37.6) and rebounding (27.0). Chamberlain scored 50 or more points seven times. A Philadelphia team that went 32-40 improved to 49-26, and Chamberlain’s Warriors attracted capacity crowds most nights.
But despite the arrival of Chamberlain, the Celtics were still the league’s top team, which was underlined as Boston won an NBA-record 59 games. St. Louis won the West by 16 games in what was then a 75-game season.
In a battle that would play out many times over the next several seasons, Chamberlain and the Warriors lost to Bill Russell and the Celtics in six games in the Eastern Division finals. In 142 head-to-head meetings between 1959 and 1969, according to the New York Times, Chamberlain had more points (4,077-2,060, or 28.7 points a game to 14.5) and rebounds (4,072-3,373, which works out to 28.7-23.8) than Russell. But Chamberlain won two titles in his career, and only one while Russell was still active. Russell won 11.
St. Louis was pushed to seven games by the Lakers before advancing to once again meet the Celtics. The teams split the first six games, with Boston winning in blowouts and St. Louis just scraping by. The Celtics easily won Game 7 in Boston as Russell starred with 22 points and 35 rebounds.
The Celtics, with Red Auerbach at the controls, had built a champion piece by piece, beginning with Bob Cousy in 1950, adding Bill Sharman in 1951, Frank Ramsey in 1954, Jim Loscutoff in 1955, and Tom Heinsohn and Bill Russell in 1956.
But after the first championship in 1957, the Celtics didn’t stop adding players who put winning above personal achievements. Sam Jones came aboard in 1957, K.C. Jones and Gene Conley in 1958, and Tom Sanders in 1960. Auerbach’s legendary eye for talent and demand for team play had set in motion one of sport’s greatest dynasties.
Eastern Division semifinals
Philadelphia defeated Syracuse (2-1)
Western Division semifinals
Minneapolis defeated Detroit (2-0)
Eastern Division finals
Boston defeated Philadelphia (4-2)
Western Division finals
St. Louis defeated Minneapolis (4-3)
Boston defeated St. Louis (4-3)
Points — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors (37.6)
Assists — Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics (9.5)
Rebounds — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors (27.0)
FG% — Kenny Sears, New York Knicks (47.7)
FT% — Dolph Schayes, Syracuse Nationals (89.3)
Most Valuable Player — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors
Rookie of the Year — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors
All-Star Game MVP — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors