76’ers can make argument for best team

Published 10:09 am Wednesday, February 18, 2009

There have been several recent articles in The Tribune about the great Boston Celtic teams of the past.

I’m sure any of the Celtic teams from 1956-69 that won 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons could be considered one of the best teams of all time.

With future Hall of Famers Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, John Havilcek, Sam and K.C. Jones, they were always formidable.

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The 1971-72 NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers finished with a season record of 69-13 (.852 winning pct.) and had a record 33-game winning streak that still stands today.

Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Happy Hairston, and Jim McMillan formed the nucleus of this great team.

The 1995-96 NBA champion Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, finished with a season record of 72-10 (.878 winning pct). This is the best regular season record in NBA history.

Perhaps the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76’ers might draw a few votes from some fans. Coached by Alex Hannum, the 76’ers set a then NBA record 68-13 (.840 winning pct.) regular season record. In the playoffs they defeated the Cincinnati Royals three games to one. Chamberlain and the 76’ers then defeated the defending NBA champion Celtics four games to one.

In the NBA finals, the San Francisco Warriors, the team that traded Chamberlain three seasons before, were defeated four games to two.

The Warriors were led by 6’11” Nate Thurmond, a graduate of Bowling Green University in Ohio. The 76’ers had some interesting stats.

The average margin of victory was 9.4 (125.2 to 115.8) per game. The 7’1” Chamberlain had perhaps his greatest season averaging 24.1 points per game, 24.2 rebounds per game, and 7.8 assists per game. The starting forwards were 6’9” Luke Jackson and 6’7” Chet Walker.

Jackson averaged 12.0 ppg, 8.9 rpg, and 1.4 apg. Walker averaged 19.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg, and 2.3 apg. The starting guards were Marshall’s own 6’2” Hal Greer and 6’2” Wally Jones.

Greer averaged 22.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 3.8 apg. Jones averaged 13.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 3.7 apg. Note that center Chamberlain led the team in assists. The first three players off the bench were 6’6” swingman Billy Cunningham, 6’1” guard Larry Costello, and 6’7” forward Dave Gambee. Cunningham averaged 18.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, and 2.5 apg. Costello, who later coached the Milwaukee Bucks, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to an NBA title, averaged 7.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg and 2.7 apg.

Gambee averaged 6.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, and 0.7 apg. Other members of the team included Matt Guokas, Bill Melchionni, and Bob Weiss.

It should be noted that the 76’ers did not carry a backup center. When they traded for Chamberlain in the middle of the 1964-65 season, rookie center Luke Jackson was on the way to being NBA rookie of the year.

He was immediately switched to forward giving the 76’ers an awesome rebounding duo. From that point on when Chamberlain needed a breather, which was rare, Jackson moved back to the center position. There you have it, the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76’ers may have been the NBA’s greatest team for a single season.

While this article was in the making, Dante Lavelli, an original member of the Cleveland Browns, passed away. He played for the Browns 1946-56.

A member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Lavelli caught 386 passes for 6,488 yards and 62 TDs during his 11 year career. He attended The Ohio State University before enlisting at the start of World War II.

Mike Nourse is a retired educator and contributing columnist for The Tribune. He lives in Coal Grove with wife Clara Gail, also a retired educator.