This is the ninth in a series of articles featuring a countdown of the Top 16 Greatest Lakers of All Time, as decided by the followers of Lakers UK on Twitter and Instagram.
Continuing with number 9 – Wilt Chamberlain. We’ll take an in-depth look at his best postseason as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
One of the greats of the game, Chamberlain played only 5 of his 14 seasons with the Lakers. In that short time, he played 18,556 minutes in 419 games, scoring 7,250 points and pulling in 8,307 rebounds. Throughout the 1960s he led the league in win shares, totaling at 200.6. A full 56 wins ahead of second, Oscar Robertson.
Chamberlain was traded to the purple and gold in the summer of 1968. The major trade between the Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers saw the first time a reigning MVP was traded. Lakers owner at the time, Jack Kent Cooke, gave Chamberlain an unprecedented contract, offering him $250,000 after taxes (about $1.8 million today).
Wilt the Stilt had a few memorable moments in his short time as a Laker. One being the time he blocked a young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar‘s famous skyhook twice on one play. Another would be the record-holding 33 game winning streak he helped the team sustain during the 1971-72 season. Chamberlain averaged only 14.8 PPG that season, asserting his dominance on the defensive end, pulling down 19.2 RPG.
For this recap we have decided to take a look at Chamberlain’s efforts in securing the Lakers their first championship in Los Angeles. Winning himself his second ring and his only Finals MVP, at the age of 35.
Wilt the Stilt’s only Finals MVP:
As of the start of the 1971-72 season, the Lakers had gone to 7 of the last 11 NBA Finals since the team had moved from Minneapolis. Losing in each series (6 at the hands of the Boston Celtics). Chamberlain had only been present for the last 2, losing against the Celtics in ’69 and the New York Knicks in the year after.
The Lakers won 69 games in the ’71-’72 season, finishing first in the Western Conference. Led in scoring by the Hall of Fame backcourt Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, both scoring 25 points a night each. Chamberlain led the team in minutes and rebounds, playing 42.3 MPG and pulling in 19.2 RPG. He also led the team in win shares at 15.8 wins added for the season, proving himself a crucial part of the team’s success.
LA stormed their way through the ’72 Playoffs, first sweeping the Chicago Bulls. Chamberlain played every single minute in the 4 games, averaging 14.5 PPG and leading the series in rebounds at 20.8 per game. They would then beat the Milwaukee Bucks in 6 games, with Chamberlain scoring 10.8 PPG and once again leading in rebounds at 19.3 per game. His age had definitely slowed his scoring, but everything else was still there, at an elite level. Helping the Lakers make the NBA Finals once again, facing the Knicks like they had 2 years prior.
The purple and gold would lose the first game against their fellow founding franchise, 114-92. Chamberlain pulled in 19 rebounds in the game to go along with his 12 points. Struggling from the field, the Lakers shot only 37% for the night. Goodrich’s struggles were the main contributor to this, finishing with 20 points, but only hitting 8 of his 22 shots. With the Knicks shooting 54% as a team, the Lakers posed as an easy target.
Luckily for Los Angeles, Game 2 was a different story. The game ended 106-92 in the Lakers’ favour. With it being over before the 4th quarter even started. The Lakers led 79-61 in 36 minutes. Chamberlain had a much better game, completing a 20-20 with 23 points and 24 rebounds. He played all 48 minutes in the contest, asserting himself as still one of the dominant forces in the game. Goodrich would also receive credit for the win, scoring 31 points on 14/18 shooting from the field. A good showing for a team finally coming of age on the grandest of stages.
Game 3 deviated little from that story arc. Once again holding the Knicks under 100 points, the Lakers won the game 107-96. Chamberlain would record yet another 20-20 performance, with 26 points and 20 boards. Playing every single minute in the game once again, Chamberlain did little to show his age. The Lakers were now up 2-1, well and truly in the driving seat.
Game 4 would see the Knicks attempt to push back. After 4 quarters the teams could not be separated, tied at 101-101. With the game being forced to overtime the Lakers would have to dig deep into their past experience. Failure is often a more effective motivator than success. The Lakers would eventually edge to the win in the 5 minutes of overtime, beating the Knicks 116-111. Chamberlain would once again impress, playing all 53 minutes in the game he scored only 12 points but secured 24 rebounds too. Crucial as the result would boil down to a battle for the boards, in the end. A battle the Lakers won.
With the coming of Game 5, yet another opportunity arose for Los Angeles to experience its first NBA Championship. The game was close all the way. The first half ended tied, 53-53. The following 3rd quarter ended with a 5 point differential in the Lakers’ favour, 83-78. LA would then go onto win the 4th quarter 31-22, subsequently winning the game 114-100. Securing their first NBA Championship as the Los Angeles Lakers and proving themselves as a legitimate franchise. Especially significant after all the Finals losses the organisation had faced prior.
The deciding factor in the game ended up being the free-throws. The Lakers hit 32/42 from the line, opposed to the Knicks only mustering 22/27. Chamberlain led the charge otherwise, scoring 24 points whilst grabbing 29 rebounds, yet another 20-20 for the big man. Goodrich and West would follow closely behind, with 25 and 23 points, respectively. Wilt the Stilt earnt his Finals MVP award doing what he did best late in his career, rebounding. Pulling down an average of 23.2 over the 5 games. Pairing that with 19.4 PPG, he well and truly deserved to be added to the, at the time short but coveted, Finals MVP list.
Selected with a territorial pick by his hometown Philadelphia Warriors in the 1959 NBA Draft. He would go onto prove himself as a true star in the league, winning his first championship ring in 1967. After being traded to the Lakers in the summer of 1968, Chamberlain would go onto win 4 NBA Rebounding Titles, 4 NBA All-Star selections, an All-NBA Second Team selection, 2 NBA All-Defensive Team selections, 1 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award, an NBA Championship, and later an induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 1983 the Lakers made it so no other Laker would wear number 13 again, hanging his jersey in the rafters of The Forum, and now the Staples Center. Becoming the joint first player (with Elgin Baylor) to have his number retired by the Los Angeles Lakers. More than making him worthy of a place on this list as a true Laker great!
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