By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Apr 23 2012 12:50PM - Updated Apr 23 2012 4:25PM
Season of Giants: 1961-62
NBA.com celebrates the 50th anniversary of a legendary season
• Complete Season of Giants coverage
It was a season when Wilt Chamberlain exploded like a firecracker in a room full of crystal, shattering records and imaginations, scoring 100 points in a single game, averaging 50.4 points for the season. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics simply hummed like a powerful generator in the background, a force you could feel coming through the floor to your feet.
It was a season when Oscar Robertson painted his personal masterpiece across the basketball canvas, averaging the only triple-double -- 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds, 11.4 assists -- for a season in NBA history. The Celtics merely spread out the dropcloths and whitewashed the fences, interested more in efficiency than effect.
It was a season when a rookie named Walt Bellamy spectacularly lit up scoreboards and stat lines for the expansion Chicago Packers by averaging 31.6 points and 19 rebounds. The Celtics were as steady as a lighthouse beacon cutting through the fog along a rocky shore.
If change is the only real constant in life, time must have stood still in the NBA from 1959 to 1966 as the Celtics ran off a string of eight consecutive championships to stake their claim as the greatest dynasty in the history of professional sports. And perhaps it was during the famous '61-'62 season when Boston demonstrated that the symphony of a team could reach higher notes and be more enduring than any individual virtuoso performance.
"It's pretty simple. We won all these titles because it wasn't about stats, but about the W's," said Hall of Famer Tom Heinsohn. "I know that just sounds like a cliché, but it isn't. It was the way we took the court for every game. You know how they're always stopping games today to honor milestones for a player. Christ, I scored my 10,000th point on Bob Cousy Day at Boston Garden and I didn't even find out until somebody happened to mention it to me in the locker room when the game was over. We were just a team."
The '61-'62 Celtics were a team that would produce seven Hall of Fame players (Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Heinsohn, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Frank Ramsey and Satch Sanders), led by Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach.
"You've got to have a leader," said Sam Jones. "And for all the greatness that was in Russell, I've always believed that leader, the one who turned the Celtics into the Celtics, was coach Red Auerbach. We called him a dictator coach with a democratic team. It was his way or Trailways, but everybody loved him."
Auerbach was the one who assembled the Celtics and got the players to buy into his style and his attitude. He's the one who practically turned the Celtics winning the NBA title every spring into a birthright for a generation of Boston fans.
For Auerbach, it was never enough for the Celtics to be the best team in the world. He wanted them to act like it. They wore jackets on the road, always presenting an image of professionalism. They made fast-breaking both a weapon and a trademark style. They didn't sit during timeouts, because getting tired was for opponents and losers. Auerbach only wanted players who would buy into the entire philosophy.
"If you allowed the ball as it went through the net to hit the floor and you were the nearest guy to it, you'd come out of the game," Heinsohn said. "You had to take it out of the net, step out of bounds, find the guy farthest up the floor and get it to him. It was constantly attack, make them think fast and make them run fast. You had to let them know that this was our game."
Year after year, long after the playoffs were over -- maybe at a summer time social outing or maybe the following season at the start of training camp -- players would hear from opponents who could never accept Boston's superiority.
"I've had a lot of guys say to me: 'I know a couple of years we had a better team than you did and I don't understand how you won,' " Russell said. "I've always laughed and told them, 'The best team always wins.' This isn't one game, one night where a fluke or an upset happens. It's a series, the best of seven, and that means the best team will win. Maybe part of the reason that you never could beat us was that they never really understood what a team really means."
• The '61-'62 Celtics were the first team in NBA history to win 60 games in a season.
• The Celtics had the highest point differential per game (9.2) of any team since the 1947 Washington Capitals (9.7), also coached by Auerbach.
• The Celtics won the regular-season series against all eight opponents in the league.
• In the only season in NBA history that had six scorers -- Chamberlain, Bellamy, Bob Pettit, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Robertson -- average at least 30 points per game, the Celtics did not have a single player ranked in the top 10. Heinsohn was 11th at 22.1. But Boston did have six players who averaged double figures.
• Russell won the third of his five MVP awards.
"You hear a lot about role players," Russell said. "Well, we never had role players. We just had several guys that played on our team all year. And so if one of the starters had a bad game or was injured, one of the guys could play in his spot and fill in. It wasn't like you sat around all year and then it's the playoffs and you've got to play 20 minutes, in a big situation. That won't work.
"I was in Boston for 13 years and we only made one trade. Auerbach was opposed to trades, because he said, first of all, nobody's ever going to give you anything. And if you get another player, he has to adjust to your team and you've got to adjust to him and his spot, because he's going to have a different style than the guy he replaced. So sometimes you get a, quote, better player, but do not improve your team.
"Also, in practices we always mixed the guys up, the starters and the reserves. We never had the starters play the bench guys. We always mixed it up so that you all knew how to play for each other. I'll give you an example. My rookie year I joined the Celtics after 25 games, because I played in the Olympics and I had learned to play basketball. What I mean by that is I could get a rebound and dribble up court fast. So one of the early games I was playing I got a rebound and started up court and I checked and Bob Cousy was over my right shoulder. I said to myself, 'There's something wrong with this.'
"So from then on when I got a rebound, I looked for Cooz. He led the league in assists like eight straight times. So if I'm gonna bring the ball up, what's he gonna do? So when I got a rebound, I started to look for him. We started to collaborate. He says to me, 'Why don't we do this? Whatever shot's taken, I go over there to that spot. Look there first.' That's the way we started the fastbreak, with an outlet. A lot of times we'd have a layup three or four seconds after they shot, because I would get a rebound and throw Cooz the ball before I landed because I knew he'd be there and he'd get the ball just short of half court, on the move. One year I think we averaged 121 points and it was really based on our defense and playing together and being together and understanding each other and knowing where the other guy would be. That's what I mean about being the best team."
The Celtics played with a philosophy and a grand vision and rarely got bogged down in overanalyzing the details.
"We never looked at film," Jones said. "We never looked at the other team. As long as we could execute what we wanted to do, that's all we needed. We never changed. We just did things and thought about winning. That's what we did best.
"We never had a play book. We never had a chalkboard. We had it all in our heads. When Red called the play, he just said we'd run the No. 2 or No. 6 or No. 33, you know, uniform numbers. We all knew who would get the ball and who was open. At same time, no matter who we called to take the shot, we felt confident in that person would make it. We never changed the plays in my 12 years of playing. We just used options. I look at all these coaches today with chalk boards and three and four different assistants. I think it's overkill."
The Celtics' way, Auerbach's way, was to have the players as heavily invested in the decisions and strategy as the coach.
"Red's knack was that he asked for a total commitment," Heinsohn said. "You've heard plenty of coaches say that. But what he wanted was to get you to focus all you were as a person. So you were intellectually involved in everything that went on, from first day of training camp where you came up with ideas and he utilized them.
"Red always asked for ideas and opinions. Then we'd come to a crucial point in a ballgame and instead of always coming up with a solution himself, he would ask, 'Anybody got anything?' And you were expected to tell him in front of your teammates what you thought you could do to win the game and then you had to go and do it. I'm telling you, this guy was a real genius at managing people and getting a commitment from them, not just getting them to follow orders. He lived by his beliefs all the time.
"One time years later, when Rick Pitino was coaching the Celtics, he heard the story about Red asking does anybody got anything? He asked me: 'Did you do that when you were coaching, Tommy?' I told him yes. He said, 'Well, if it's good enough you and Red, it ought to be good enough for me.' So in a game a short time later, in a timeout with about two minutes to go on a team with Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce he says: 'Does anybody got anything?' And nobody says a word. Finally Antoine Walker says. 'You're the [bleeping] coach. Tell us what to do.'
"Pitino missed the whole point of the deal. It was a philosophy, a system, not waiting until two minutes left in the game and then asking them for the answer. It was a process of inclusion. I always called it basketball's Cosa Nostra. Because Red made us all believe everything we did was our thing."
The Celtics' 60-20 record earned them a bye in the first round of the playoffs and, after Chamberlain's Warriors beat the Syracuse Nationals, the Philly-Boston rivalry resumed in the Eastern Division finals.
With the series tied 2-2, things turned physical and ugly in Game 5. With the Celtics leading by 20 in the fourth quarter, Chamberlain collided with Sam Jones and some jawing ensued. When Wilt began to charge at him, Jones picked up a photographer's stool near the baseline and threatened Chamberlain with it as fans and police rushed onto the floor. When Boston's Carl Braun tried to help Jones, Philadelphia's Guy Rodgers slugged him in the mouth. That prompted Celtic Jim Loscutoff to chase after Rodgers, who imitated Jones and picked up a stool and began waving it for protection.
"If I was going to fight Wilt, I wasn't going to fight him fair," Jones said.
"The brawl had its comic overtones," Frank Dolson wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
But eventually Jones got the last laugh as the seconds ticked off the clock with the scored tied in Game 7. Jones took the pass from K.C. Jones, looked to make a feed inside to Russell, but found the path blocked by Chamberlain. With the full-throated throng at the Garden on its feet screaming, Jones waited until the last possible tick. Chamberlain made a lunge toward him and Jones put up a jumper that banked off the glass for the win.
"I just got it off over the top of his hand," Jones said. "What I remember saying to Wilt was: 'Too late.' "
The Celtics moved on to face the L.A. Lakers in the NBA Finals. Boston had beaten the Lakers' franchise when it was still located in Minneapolis in 1959 and this was the first time they met up representing the East and West Coasts. With Baylor and West averaging a combined 68 points per game, the Lakers battled the Celtics to a draw through the first six games and tied Game 7 on a tip-in by Frank Selvy with 30 seconds remaining.
After Ramsey missed for Boston, the Lakers called timeout and everyone in the arena, including both teams, expected either Baylor or West to take the final shot. Selvy inbounded to "Hot Rod" Hundley, who was unable to get the ball to West as he was blanketed by K.C. Jones. Hundley passed back to Selvy, who was wide open, eight feet from the hoop. He missed his shot off the front rim and the game went into overtime.
Heinsohn had been slowed all game by illness and had fouled out in regulation. Auerbach turned to little-used sub Gene Guarilia, who managed to hold Baylor to just two points in the overtime. When Guarilia harassed Baylor into one more missed shot as the clock ticked down, Russell rebounded and passed to K.C. Jones, who passed to Sam Jones, who sneaked in past the Lakers' last defender, Rudy LaRusso, for a layup and three-point play that won the game 110-107 and clinched another Boston championship.
For the rest of his career, the open 8-footer was the shot that haunted Selvy. When the Celtics finally made it to their locker room, Russell remembers sitting down in front of his locker and saying, "I'm glad that's over."
But, of course, it was far from over. The Celtics were only halfway to winning their record eight in a row and the dynasty, with Russell in the middle, would win 11 titles in 13 seasons.
"I've heard all the complaints and I've listened to all of the excuses through the years," Russell said. "What they forget is the only thing that matters. We were just the best team. It was standard operating procedure."
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