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The NBA was changing rapidly. With the Lakers moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles before the season, the league became bicoastal for the first time.
Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain had each brought a special brand of excitement to the league with landmark NBA debuts. And as the 1960-61 season opened, two guards who would thrill NBA fans for the next 14 seasons joined the league, inextricably linked from the career tipoff.
Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, both superb collegians, entered together after winning gold medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics. Robertson’s impact proved more immediate for Cincinnati; he averaged 30.5 ppg and led the league with 9.7 apg. With Chamberlain scoring 38.4 ppg and Baylor, 34.8 ppg, it marked the first time in NBA history that three players scored at least 30 ppg in the same season. West, on the other hand, came aboard just as the Lakers began a multi-year run and averaged 17.6 ppg.
To the untrained eye, West appeared to be just a skinny kid from West Virginia. But the 6-foot-3 college forward learning to be a pro guard had a desire to be the best and skills that would allow him to get there. As a rookie, West played behind fellow West Virginia legend Rodney “Hot Rod” Hundley, but it was not long before West pleaded for and got more minutes.
“I knew I couldn’t learn sitting on the bench,” West said. “The only thing I could learn were bad habits. I had to get out there and get rid of those first-year jitters.”
Chamberlain led the league in scoring and rebounding (27.2 rpg), but Philadelphia exited in the first round of the playoffs.
The schedule had expanded to 79 games, with Boston and St. Louis once again outclassing the competition, earning 57 and 51 victories, respectively. For the second straight season, St. Louis had to fight off the Lakers in a seven-game Western Division Finals to meet the Celtics, who cruised past Syracuse in five games.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, the well-balanced Celtics dismissed them in five as well, securing a third straight title.
Eastern Division semifinals
Syracuse defeated Philadelphia (3-0)
Western Division semifinals
Los Angeles defeated Detroit (3-2)
Eastern Division finals
Boston defeated Syracuse (4-1)
Western Division finals
St. Louis defeated Los Angeles (4-3)
Boston defeated St. Louis (4-1)
Points — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors (38.4)
Assists — Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals (9.1)
Rebounds — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors (27.2)
FG% — Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia Warriors (50.9)
FT% — Bill Sharman, Boston Celtics (92.1)
Most Valuable Player — Bill Russell, Boston Celtics
Rookie of the Year — Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals
All-Star Game MVP — Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals