Wilt '67 | Spirit of The Champion

Wilt '67

By Curtis Harris

From December 16 through December 28, 1966, the Philadelphia 76ers played seven games. Winning all seven contests, the Sixers sat atop the NBA with an overall record of 34 wins and 3 losses.

Wilt Chamberlain, the NBA’s reigning MVP, was an all-encompassing force during this seven game stretch. He recorded five triple-doubles in these seven games. He finished two assists and one assist shy of the statistical mark in the other two games.

Wilt Chamberlain’s triple-double spree in December 1966. (table created using infogr.am)

Overall Chamberlain averaged 24.1 points, 26.6 rebounds, and 10.6 assists while shooting an otherworldly 71.1% from the field during this statistical tantrum.

What’s truly absurd, however, is that when the 1966-67 season was all said and done, Chamberlain averaged 24.1 points, 24.2 rebounds, and 7.8 assists while shooting 68.3% from the field. All said and done, “the spree” was barely above average for the center.

As the 76ers were putting together a season unlike any seen before in NBA history, Chamberlain was once again filling the box scores with cartoonish numbers.

On November 25, 1966, versus the Baltimore Bullets, he had a performance of 41 points, 19 rebounds and four assists while making 16 of his 17 field goal attempts. The very next night versus the Detroit Pistons, the Big Dipper poured it on with 26 points, 24 rebounds and 15 assists.

Wilt Chamberlain passing and screening to free Hal Greer for the jumper

Coming out of the All-Star Break in mid-January that season, Chamberlain over the course of two games made all 26 of his field goal attempts as he totaled 59 points, 52 rebounds and 16 assists versus the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers on a back-to-back.

During the final two games of the regular season, the Big Dipper pummeled the Baltimore Bullets on back-to-back nights. On March 18, Wilt unleashed 26 points, 17 rebounds, and 15 assists. The very next day he resumed the drubbing with 37 points, 30 rebounds, and four assists. In the first game, Chamberlain showed mercy making just nine of 12 shots while in the season finale he drained all 16 of his field goal attempts.

As the Sixers finished with 68 wins and 13 losses, Chamberlain was named the NBA’s MVP for the third time in his career. And as the playoffs began he continued tormenting the opposition.

In the first round of the playoffs versus the Cincinnati Royals, the Sixers’ big man averaged 28 points, 26.5 rebounds, and 11 assists per game. With Bill Russell manning their defense the Boston Celtics fared better -- but not by much. His scoring dropped to just 21.6 points a game, but Chamberlain’s rebounding zoomed to 32 carooms a contest while his crisp passes lead to 10 assists a game.

Wilt Chamberlain outmuscling for the rebound and dunk in Game 6 of the NBA Finals

With the Celtics dispatched in five games, the Sixers rumbled in the Finals with Nate Thurmond and the San Francisco Warriors. Thurmond was no slouch and gave Chamberlain his hardest matchup of the season. Nate the Great admirably stymied Chamberlain (relatively speaking) holding the NBA’s MVP to averages of 17.7 PPG, 28.5 RPG, and 6.8 APG on 56% shooting during the Finals.

This represented an offensive decline from the regular season, but there’s two sides to the ball.

If Thurmond annoyed and frustrated Chamberlain, Wilt was able to absolutely win the matchup thanks to his own defense on Thurmond. The Hall of Fame Warriors center averaged a sterling 26.7 RPG, but only managed 14 PPG on 34% shooting as Wilt continued his season-long control of the defensive interior.

And this is what makes Wilt’s 1966-67 season a contender for the greatest ever from an individual ballplayer. On offense he got his own buckets, while facilitating easy shots for others. On defense he made life miserable for opponents. And if his constellation of star teammates forced the opposition into missed field goals, he was there to close the door on possessions by gobbling up all the rebounds.

There were other season where Chamberlain scored more points, others where he grabbed more rebounds, and dished out more assists. Amazingly, there was even a season where he shot a higher field goal percentage than 68%.

Wilt ‘67, however, truly might have been the perfect combination of Chamberlain’s athleticism, intelligence, and decision-making as his 76ers rolled to the NBA title.