Season Review: 1968-69

Take a look back at the 1968-69 NBA season, in which the Celtics upset the Lakers for the NBA title.


When Wilt Chamberlain got traded for the second (and final) time in his career — this time to the Lakers — he and the L.A. faithful had championship dreams. Yet once again, the Celtics dashed the hopes of Chamberlain (and the Lakers).

This was a season when two rookies made huge waves. The San Diego Rockets’ Elvin Hayes won the scoring title after averaging 28.4 points, while Baltimore’s Wes Unseld joined Chamberlain as the only players to win the MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season. Unseld averaged 13.8 rebounds and was second only to Chamberlain with 18.2 rebounds.

Two new franchises — the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks — made their debut as expansion franchises. Walt Bellamy set a record for games played, too. Bellamy, who began the season with New York before a trade sent him to Detroit, ended up playing 88 games because the Knicks had a busier early season schedule.

The Knicks had long been a league doormat, making the playoffs just once from 1956-66. But a couple of interesting developments had occurred in New York that would have an impact down the road. Red Holzman, the former Hawks coach in Milwaukee and St. Louis, replaced Dick McGuire as Knicks coach in midseason and took the 15-22 Knicks to a 28-17 mark the rest of the way to reach the playoffs.

Rhodes Scholar Bill Bradley of Princeton, Walt Frazier of Southern Illinois and Phil Jackson of North Dakota all made their rookie debuts. And in December, the Knicks made another important addition, obtaining Dave DeBusschere from Detroit for Bellamy and Howie Komives.

Once the playoffs began, Boston and Los Angeles romped through the competition to set up The Finals. L.A. held home court advantage and, with the series tied 3-3, felt confident as Game 7 at The Forum approached. Owner Jack Kent Cooke had set up balloons in the ceiling to be released when the Lakers won it all. But Boston ended up making Los Angeles pay, thanks to a friendly bounce of a Don Nelson jump shot that all-but clinched the title.

Jerry West finished with 42 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists in the Game 7 loss and was named Finals MVP, the first and only time the award has gone to a member of the losing team. Though the Celtics had won their 11th title in 13 seasons, it wasn’t all good times in Boston. Three months after winning the title, Bill Russell announced his retirement.


Eastern Division semifinals

New York defeated Baltimore (4-0)

Boston defeated Philadelphia (4-1)

Western Division semifinals

Atlanta defeated San Diego (4-2)

Los Angeles Lakers defeated San Francisco (4-2)

Eastern Division finals

Boston defeated New York (4-2)

Western Division finals

Los Angeles Lakers defeated Atlanta (4-1)

NBA Finals

Boston defeated Los Angeles Lakers (4-3)


Points — Elvin Hayes, San Diego Rockets (28.4)

Assists — Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals (9.8)

Rebounds — Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles Lakers (21.1)

FG% — Wilt Chamberlain, Los Angeles Lakers (58.3)

FT% — Larry Siegfried, Boston Celtics (86.4)


Most Valuable Player — Wes Unseld, Baltimore Bullets

Rookie of the Year — Wes Unseld, Baltimore Bullets

Coach of the Year — Gene Shue, Baltimore Bullets

All-Star Game MVP — Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati Royals

Finals MVP — Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers