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Russell/Chamberlain Part 2

March 12, 2012

I will concentrate on the 4 seasons in which Wilt Chamberlain’s teams had a better regular season record than Bill Russell’s teams. Those seasons were 1965-1966, 1966-1967 and 1967-1968 when Wilt was with the Philadelphia 76ers and 1968-1969, which was Chamberlain’s first season with the Lakers. 1965-1966 under former NBA great Dolph Schayes, the Sixers claimed the best record in the East on the last day of the regular season, surely a Sunday, as I recall watching the end as a 10 year old in the “Mountains” (Wilt of course was a bellhop in those “Mountains”). But Boston was really just as good and disposed of the Sixers in 5 games in the playoffs.

1966-1967 was the one season in which Chamberlain’s team defeated Russell’s Celtics in the playoffs. Philadelphia was dominant that season with a then NBA record (68-13) mark. They beat the San Francisco Warriors in six games to win the Title. What hurt, and still hurts, is that the Sixers failed to clinch the title on national television in the home, Sunday 5th game. The Sixers had beaten Boston in 5 games winning the finale (140 -116) after failing to clinch in a nationally televised 4th game. At least that game was in Boston and I believe tape exists of that contest. Oddly, due to a strike the announcers were director Chet Forte and producer Chuck Howard. Maybe they were director and producer but give me them over most of the so called, never quiet, “so called “announcers of today.

So Wilt finally had won a title but there was no television as it was clinched in a late game at San Francisco. In 1967-1968, the no television association would really hurt. The Sixers again were the better team, easily outdistancing the aging Celtics in the regular season. When “Philly” won in Boston to go up 3 games to 1 on national television, things seemed fine. But these were the Celtics and this was a time of no  national television or radio for the NBA. The Celtics needed to win 3 straight games, two in Philadelphia and that is what they did. None of the games were on television, two not even on static filled WCAU in Philadelphia.

Finally 1968-1969, the Celtics finish 4th, the lowest playoff qualifying position, in the East. Wilt had been traded to the Lakers, who had the best record in the West. Sure enough they met in the finals, the home team winning each of the first six games. Game 7 was in LA but these were the Celtics! We knew it was the great Sam Jones’ last game. It would be Russell’s last game as well. Mr. Russell, the greatest winner in sports and his great team made it 11 titles in 13 seasons winning (108-106). The Lakers had the lead and the ball with less than 24 seconds left in game 4 but could not get the ball inbounds. Sam Jones made them pay with one of the many big shots in his career.

Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell as great a rivalry and story as any in sports. Russell the greatest winner , but Wilt, no slouch with 2 titles playing on record setting teams. Wilt’s teams, minimum, should have won two more titles maybe 4 or 5. In the early years, his incredible play made it close vs deep, great Boston teams that were so much better than Wilt’s Philadelphia Warriors’ teams. As a Wilt rooter, who has nothing but awe for the greatness of the Celtics, 1968’s loss hurts the most. (Celts’ announcer was Johnny Most and I think he has announced the most titles, maybe Mel Allen?). 1968, a turbulent, tragic year in history, whose long range consequences I did not realize as a 12 to 13 year old. I did, however, feel the pain of those 3 straight non televised Boston wins. Sadly, I still do.

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