If there were an award given for a player who is most respected by basketball insiders, while getting the minimum public appreciation, Greer could win hands down.
The reason that so many players are on this list is timing. And that couldn’t be more true for our 2nd Most Underrated Philadelphia Athlete, Hal Greer. He was a guard at a time when two of the best guards in the history of the NBA played. And he was teammates with the best Sixer in the history of the franchise. Being compared to Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, in addition to playing second-fiddle to Wilt Chamberlain in Philadelphia lands Hal Greer on our list. His unmatched production and consistency are what rank him so high.
There aren’t many guys in pro sports like Hal Greer anymore. He was born June 26, 1936 in Huntington, West Virginia and became the first black athlete to receive a scholarship at Marshall University. After graduating in 1958, he was drafted by the Syracuse Nationals, who later became the Philadelphia 76ers. He went to the university located in his hometown and then played out his 15-year professional career for the same franchise.
He was most known for his speed and his mid-range jumper. His style was much more hard work than it was flash. Greer’s teammate, and then coach, Dolph Schayes had this to say: “Hal Greer always came to play. He came to practice the same way, to every team function the same way. Every bus and plane and train, he was on time. Hal Greer punched the clock. Hal Greer brought the lunch pail.” He is also remembered for his quirky style at the free-throw line, from which he would shoot jumpers. His career free throw percentage is 80.1%.
Over the course of his NBA career, the 6’2″ guard averaged 19.2 points per game, 4 assists, and 5 rebounds. He scored more than 20 points per game in eight seasons. He played in ten consecutive All-Star games from 1961 through 1970. Although he was the smallest player on the 1968 East All-Star team and although he played just 17 minutes, he earned the MVP Award after going 8-8 from the field, 5-7 from the line, and scoring 21 points. From ’63-’69 he was named to the All-NBA Second Team. He was the type of player that always turned things up in the playoffs. In the 1967 playoffs, he averaged 27.7 ppg, 5.9 rebounds. and 5.3 assists while quarterbacking the best team in basketball history to an NBA Title.
The fact that he scored so well while playing alongside Wilt Chamberlain speaks volumes about Greer’s abilities.
Greer retired after the ’72-’73 season. At that time, he had appeared in more games (1,122) than any other player in NBA history. His 21,586 career points ranked among the all-time top 10, as did his totals for minutes played, field goals attempted and field goals made. His numbers still stand up almost 40 years after he retired. He currently sits 30th all-time in scoring, 22nd in field goals made, and 26th in total minutes.
The usual waiting period for induction into the NBA Hall of Fame is 5 years. Underrated as always, Greer was forced to wait nine.
#15- Byron Evans, #14- John LeClair, #13- Von Hayes, #12- Freddy Leach, #11- Brad McCrimmon, #10- Del Ennis, #9- Eddie Plank, #8- Dick Allen, #7- Kimmo Timonen, #6- Bobby Abreu, #5- Joe Frazier, #4- Ricky Watters, #3- Donovan McNabb
It’s been great to see this Sixers-Celtics series get off to such an exciting start. In the late 60s and again in the early 80s, this was one of the premiere rivalries in basketball, but both teams have been extremely inconsistent since and the rivalry fizzled. Here is a look at all of their playoff meetings (not including times they met when 76ers were the Syracuse Nationals).
1965, when Havlicek stole the damn ball. The Celtics would go on to crush LA in the Finals.
1966– Celtics win 4-1. Would beat LA in 7 games in the Finals.
1967-Sixers win 4-1, go on to win title over San Fran Warriors.
1968-Sixers took a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals, but lost the last three games to Russell and the Celtics, who went on to win the title. Chamberlain took a ton of criticism for the loss from fans and the media, and demanded a trade to LA.
1969- Celtics win 4-1. Would beat Chamberlain and Lakers in Finals, 4 games to 3.
1977- The Sixers won 4-3. Went on to lose to Trail Blazers in Finals.
In the 80s, the rivalry reached its burning point. Philly and Boston were undoubtedly the best two teams in the East, and met each other in the Eastern Conference Finals four times between 1980 and 1985, with each team taking two.
1980- Sixers cruised to a 4-1 Series lead. After knocking off rookie sensation Larry Bird, they would lose to another incredible rookie, Magic Johnson, and the Lakers in Six.
1981- That year’s Conference Final was one of the most exciting playoff series in sports history (John Hollinger of ESPN ranked it the #1 greatest playoff series in NBA history). 5 of the 7 games were determined by 2 points or less, including the last 4 games. Furthermore, the two teams had finished the regular season 62-20. They may have been the two most evenly matched teams in NBA history. The Sixers blew a 3-1 lead in the Series, lost Game 7 by one point at the Garden, and the Celtics went on to cruise to an NBA title over the Rockets. This may have been the most devastating loss in Sixer history.
1982- The Sixers and Celtics met again in the Conference Finals. Once again the Sixers took a 3-1 Series lead. Once again, the Celtics won Game 5 in Boston and Game 6 at the Spectrum to force a game 7. Were the Sixers going to blow it again?
No. The Sixers stormed the Garden, blowing out the Celtics. With just a couple of minutes remaining, and a Sixers win assured, a most remarkable thing happened. The Celtic fans started chanting, “Beat LA! Beat LA!”. You have to think that it inspired the USA! USA! chants in Rocky IV. Right?
Anyway, an incredible moment, but it was not to be. The Lakers would beat the Sixers in 6 games. The Sixers would have to wait until they got a player named Moses to get tho the promised land.
1985- Celtics win 4-1. Lose to Lakers in Finals.
2002-Celtics win 3-2 in the first round. This series is best remembered for “Practice?”
Nickname Week at Philly Sports History is coming to a close, but not before we look back at Darryl Dawkins. “Chocolate Thunder” is the king of pseudonyms. Truly before his time in terms of marketing himself, he personified the term athlete-entertainer. You think Shaq and his nicknames were original? Not even a little. “Double D” was coining nicknames for himself and his dunks while Shaq was still in diapers.
And there’s no doubting that “Sir Slam’s” dunks were deserving of nicknames; the power with which he threw down borders on terrifying. Take a look at the video below:
Here are several of the most memorable nicknames “Dr. Dunkenstein” came up with for his dunks:
- “Your Mama” When the “Master of Disaster” first broke into the league and was practicing with guys like Dr. J., Jellybean Bryant, World B. Free and Doug Collins, he wanted to show everyone he was a player. After his first powerful dunk, he turned to the guy who attempted to play defense and said “Your Mama.” When the rest of the players asked him what the hell he was talking about, he said “That’s my ‘Your Mama’ dunk.”
- “The Heart-Stopper” At 6’11” and 250 lbs., “King Kong” was an imposing presence to say the least. So when he froze defenders in the lane with powerful drives to the hoop, he would call those dunks “Heart-Stoppers” because it looked like they made the defender’s heart stop.
- “The Greyhound Bus” Greyhound Bus described when he would go coast to coast and finish with a dunk.
- “Left-Handed, Spine-Chiller Supreme” Although “Charming Chocolate” was right-handed, he often dunked lefty.
- “Turbo Sexophonic Delight” Makes sense when you consider he was an alien from the planet Lovetron who spent the offseason practicing interplanetary funkmanship.
- “Chocolate Thunder Flyin’, Glass Flyin’, Robizine Cryin’, Parents Cryin’, Babies Cryin’, Glass Still Flyin’, Rump Roasting, Bun Toasting, Thank You Wham Ma’am I Am’ Jam” His first backboard shattering slam. (right)
- “The Chocolate Thunder Ain’t Playin’, Get Out The Wayin’, Backboard Swayin’, Game Delayin’, Super Spike” And his second backboard shattering slam, after which the NBA forever changed to collapsible rims.
Honorable Mention Dunks: “Dunk You Very Much,” “The Rim-Wrecker,” “The Gorilla, “The In Your Face Disgrace,” “If You Ain’t Groovin’ You Best Get Movin’ Dunk.”
Nickname Week rolls on here at Philly Sports History. So far, we’ve taken care of the Eagles and the Flyers. Today we take a look at the best nicknames in the history of the Philadelphia 76ers. There are way too many nicknames in team history to remember them all, but here are 10 of the best in no particular order. As always, let us know if you can think of any others that should have cracked the Top Ten.
- “World” Lloyd Bernand Free – Lloyd was given the nickname “World” in high school for his all-world talent, so he did the reasonable thing and officially changed his name to World B. Free.
- “The Boston Strangler” Andrew Toney – The origin of this nickname is pretty obvious. He dominated the Celtics in the playoffs, most memorably with a 34 point night in Game Seven of the ’83 Eastern Conference Finals.
- “The Round Mound of Rebound” Charles Barkley – As a stocky 6’5″ forward who took home the rebounding title in ’86-’87, it’s not surprising Sir Charles was given this moniker.
- “Chocolate Thunder” Darryl Dawkins – Dawkins’ nickname came from an unlikely source: Stevie Wonder. In an interview with Dime Magazine, Dawkins told the story: “Stevie Wonder used to come the ball games and they would have a guy sitting with him. And the guy would be holding on to his arm, telling him what’s going on, and he would say, ‘Hey, the big chocolate guy just put down a thunder dunk. The chocolate guy with another monster dunk.’ And Stevie Wonder actually gave me the nickname Chocolate Thunder. So a guy who never saw me can give me that name. I think I can wear that well. I don’t even know if he remembers, it’s been so long, but I’ll keep that.”
- “Dr. J.” Julius Erving – Julius Erving had a buddy in high school, Leon Saunders, who “could outtalk anybody to the point where would lecture whoever else was around.” Because of this, Erving called him the “Professor.” Saunders figured they both should have professional sounding nicknames, so he started calling Erving the “Doctor” and it stuck. It was later shortened to “Dr. J” when he started playing pro basketball.
- “The Answer” Allen Iverson – Although his nickname growing up in Hampton, VA was “Bubba Chuck,” once he was drafted by the Sixers he became “The Answer” for the struggling franchise.
- “Pooh” Johnny Dawkins – Dawkins was nicknamed “Pooh” by his family when he was a child and it lasted.
- “Jellybean” Joe Bryant – A high school teammate gave Bryant the nickname “Jellybean” because he had all the moves of the guard, even though he was a 6’9″ power forward.
- “The Kangaroo Kid” Billy Cunningham – Cunningham was called “The Kangaroo Kid” because of his insane leaping ability.
- “The Big Dipper” Wilt Chamberlain – Wilt had many nicknames, but preferred “The Big Dipper,” which was coined by friends at Overbrook H.S. because he had to dip his head to get through doorways.
Larry Mendte needs no introduction. I doubt there is a Philadelphian who doesn’t know his name. He has a house swimming in Emmys for his terrific television work (including two earlier this year). And though his career at KYW ended in scandal in 2008, he has since recovered nicely, writing for Philly Mag, doing commentary for WPIX in New York, and becoming an advocate for the 9/11 First Responders. And this isn’t the first time he’s been gracious enough to respond to an inquiry from me. In 2006, he talked to me about ghosts. Well, here he talks about the ghosts of 1972, when Philly sports hit rock bottom, and how surviving during the lean years has made the recent success of Philly sports all the sweeter.
The present is the best of times for Philadelphia sports fans. The Phillies are the best team in baseball. The Eagles will be the Super Bowl favorites in football. The Flyers made moves that put them in the mix for a Stanley Cup run. Even the Philadelphia 76ers are showing signs of something better than mediocre thanks to the return of my favorite Sixers’ player, now my favorite Sixers’ coach, Doug Collins.
And that takes us back to the worst of times. For to truly be able to bask in what is, you need to have suffered through what was. In 1972 I was 15 years old and a sophomore at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Delaware County. It was an age and a year when you were fully invested in your sports teams for better or worse. But in Philadelphia there was no column A – everything was worse, record setting worse.
The Philadelphia 76ers started out the year losing their first 15 games and the season went downhill from there. In the middle of the year they suffered a then record setting 20 game losing streak. And yet I can remember the names of every player on that team as I used to go to the Spectrum, buy a nose bleed seat and by the 3rd quarter I was courtside. The team was so bad I had the urge to yell “next.” When the team ended the season 9-73, the worst record in NBA history, it was depressing.
But the 76ers were not alone, every team was pitiful. I challenge anyone to come up with a worse year in Philadelphia sports than 1972 bleeding over to the beginning of ’73. I contend it stands as the worst year in Philadelphia professional sports history.
The Philadelphia Phillies were 59 – 97 that year and finished last in the National League East. Cy Young award winner Steve Carlton won 27 of those games. Without Carlton the Phillies could have easily contended for the title of worst team in Major League Baseball History. One shudders to think how many games the team would have lost without Lefty.
The other team to play at The Vet was even worse. The Philadelphia Eagles were 2-11-1 in 1972 and finished last in the NFC East. They beat the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Oilers both by one point, so they were just two points away from a winless season. The team scored just 12 touchdowns in a 14 game season.
The Philadelphia Flyers finished with a 26-38-14 record in 1972. In a city of last place teams, the Flyers fourth place finish in the NHL West made them a giant among midgets. But there was more than that, a new coach named Fred Shero seemed to have a vision. And Bobby Clarke in his third season had the making of a superstar.
The four teams I mentioned had a combined record of 96-219-15. 1972 may not only be the worst year in Philadelphia sports history, but the worst year that any city with at least four major league franchises has ever suffered.
Philadelphia was dubbed The City of Losers. It was depressing for a 15 year old kid in Lansdowne who felt a deep connection with the teams. It was no wonder that Big 5 basketball and Penn State football was so big in the early 70’s. The college teams gave Philadelphia our only taste of winning.
But that would quickly change, for Fred Shero did have a vision. The very next year, the Philadelphia Flyers would shed their reputation for mediocrity; emulating the swagger of a city that had something to prove and nothing to lose. I watched all six games of that Stanley Cup series from the kitchens and living rooms of friends and family. It was on everywhere.
Famously, before game six against the great Boston Bruins, Shero posted a note in the locker room. “Win today and we walk together forever.” They won game six and the Stanley Cup series 1-0 thanks to the brilliance of goalie Bernie Parent.
That night I remember celebrating with my friends and a few hundred other people in the middle of street in Yeadon, Delaware County. The crowd chanted “1,2,3,4. Who the F—is Bobby Orr.” There was sheer elation. Philadelphia became a hockey town that year. The team known as the Broad Street Bullies defiantly ripped the label “City of Losers” from all of our chests.
Philadelphia became a hockey town that year. Suddenly kids, who used to play stick ball, pick-up basketball and touch football, were playing street hockey. And Fred Shero’s prophecy came true, as Clarke, Shultz, Barber, Parent, DuPont, Dorhoefer and Saleski were overnight household names. They were walking together forever into Philadelphia Sports immortality.
Everything seemed to change after the cup came to town. The Flyers would win again and the Phillies, 76ers and Eagles all seemed to drink from it. The City of Loser was now the City of Winners. Clarke and Parent were joined by Schmidt, Dr J and Vermeil. Within the next ten years the City would have a World Series win, an NBA Championship and a Super Bowl appearance. I was there when Tug McGraw lifted the trophy over his head at JFK stadium and I chanted “Fo, Fo, Fo” as Moses moved down Broad Street in a victory parade. But my favorite sports moment in Philadelphia happened at the intersection of Church and Whitby when I shared in shared in a loud and emotional mass transformation of Philadelphia sports fans from what we were, repressed and resigned, to what we are today, proud and passionate.
The suffering of 1972 made 1974, 1980, 1981 and 1983 more meaningful. It makes those of us who remember 1972, the worst of times, treasure today, the best of times.
This is Part 4 of our series on Philly sports memories. Here are the previous entries.
Part 1, with Nick Staskin of Phillies Nation.
Part 2, with John Finger of CSN Philly.
Part 3, with Maxx of Black Landlord.
Most people in Philadelphia remember the 1996 draft as the one in which the Sixers drafted Allen Iverson with the #1 overall pick. And no wonder. Iverson was the player who, for better or worse, defined this team for the next decade. But the Sixers 2nd round picks were fairly remarkable as well, but for very different reasons.
With the 31st pick in the 1996 draft, the Sixers selected 6’9″ Forward Mark Hendrickson. Hendrickson made the team, but played sparingly. After the season ended, he was signed by the Kings. He played a season in Sacramento and a season in New Jersey before calling an NBA career quits and deciding to give baseball a try. He was hardly a hardball superstar, but he was good enough to kick around the league from 2002-2010, pitching for the Blue Jays, Devil Rays, Dodgers, Marlins and Orioles.
The Sixers also held the very next pick in the draft, and used it to select Ryan Minor. Minor was a superstar guard at Oklahoma, averaging over 23 PPG his junior year and 21 PPG his senior year. His junior year, he was named the Big 8 Player of the Year. And he might have played here alongside Iverson if the Sixers didn’t already have a full roster. According to a 1998 Inky article about Minor:
“I’m still trying to figure out what’s going on with that organization,” said Minor, pounding a baseball into the palm of his glove as he sat in front of his locker.
“They drafted three guys in that second round when they already had 12 guys under contract,” Minor said. “They knew exactly who was going to be on their team that year, so all the guys they picked had no shot, no shot at all. What I don’t understand is, if they knew that, why didn’t they just trade a couple of the picks? That would have been the fair thing to do.”
Instead Minor got cut, was picked up by Baltimore, and became the answer to a trivia question: who played 3rd base for the Orioles the night Cal Ripken’s streak finally ended? He is currently the coach for the Delmarva Shorebirds, the Orioles Single A farm club. Here’s a good write up about him from last year. (He has since returned to his job with the Shorebirds.)
The 1986 NBA draft is one of the most memorable in sports history. The #2 pick died of a cocaine overdose, and three other players threw away their talents with drugs. The first round was almost a complete bust, with only one player ever making an All-Star team, while the 2nd round was a huge success. Dennis Rodman, Mark Price, and Jeff Hornacek all had long and productive NBA careers. It was also the draft in which the Sixers dismantled their team, making two of the worst trades in NBA history within a few minutes of each other, and destroying a once proud franchise.
The Sixers were sitting pretty on draft day of 1986. They had gone 54-28 that previous season, and had won two or more playoff series in 5 of the previous 7 years. (They were only prevented from making it 6 of 7 by missing a last second shot against the Bucks in Game 7 of the 1986 playoffs.) They had a young star named Charles Barkley to build around. And despite the winning record, a trade they had made 7 years previous (when they sent Kobe’s dad, Jellybean Bryant, to the Clippers) had given them the #1 pick in the draft. Rarely has a team been is such prime position on draft day. And then, in the space of just a few hours, the Sixers defied the odds and destroyed their team.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but in this case foresight was 20/400. The Sixers front office pulled off two blunders that made picking Sam Bowie over Jordan seem like a reasonable move. After shooting down Detroit’s offer of Kelly Tripucka, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson for Moses and the #1 pick, they made a deal with Washington. They traded away Moses Malone and Terry Catledge and two future first round picks to the Bullets for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson.
Sixers owner Harold Katz saw Moses as over the hill. Malone could have been over the mountain and spent the rest of his career dropkicking the ball into the basket and still have been better than Ruland. To put how bad this trade was in perspective, consider this: Malone scored more points in his first five games on the Bullets than Ruland would score in his entire Sixers career. (Cliff Robinson for Terry Catledge was a wash, with Robinson being slightly better but Catledge being a lot healthier. And as reader Steve pointed out, the Sixers also shipped off two future first round draft picks, )
But the Sixers weren’t done. They still felt the need to throw away the first pick in the draft. And they did just that, trading the #1 pick (who everybody knew would be Brad Daugherty) to the Cavaliers for Roy Hinson and cash. What was remarkable about the deal is that the Cavaliers made it despite not having a GM or a coach at the time. Yep, the Sixers got fleeced by a dead end franchise without a front office or a coach. Said Katz a couple of years later (btw, the 1988 Inky article I just linked to is a must read if you want to see the anatomy of this disaster. It’s like reading A Night to Remember, that book about the Titanic.):
“When I first heard that Cleveland had called us and offered Hinson, I thought it was a joke. Hinson was coming off a great, great year. He had to be rated one of the top three or four power forwards in the league. He was just 25. He had great stats.
“The excitement in that room about Roy Hinson being available was shared by everyone. There were statements – I’m not going to stay by whom – that it was a no-brainer . . . Let’s not even think about it. Let’s do it. But we did think about it. We made some phone calls. And everything we heard (about Hinson) was all positive.”
The Sixers front office was obviously in a bubble. Everyone in Philadelphia knew instantly that these deals were disastrous. In an article in the Inquirer the next day, a Sixers fan said to the reporter, “That trade was the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard of. How can you trade an all-star for Jeff Ruland?”
In that same article, Moses showed that he was indeed a prophet. “I thought Harold Katz should have been man enough to call me the night before the trade instead of having (assistant general manager) John Nash call me. I brought them a championship. He should have had enough respect to call me and ask if I wanted to be traded. When Charles Barkley gets to be about my age . . . not my age, but after he’s played about five years, I think they might do the same thing to him.”
Of course, Moses was off by one year. 6 years later, the Sixers would trade Barkley in the 2nd stupidest trade in team history (Or possibly the 3rd. The Wilt trade was pretty terrible too.)
As for this deal, everything about it was disastrous. Moses would average 18 or more points and 10 or more rebounds in each of the next 4 years, while Jeff Ruland’s knees held up for all of 5 games on the Sixers. (He took a 5 year sabbatical, then came back to play 13 ineffective games for the team in 1992.) Roy Hinson never meshed with the Sixers, lasting a disappointing season and a half before being dealt, while Brad Daugherty became the Cavs all time leading scorer and rebounder. The team that had won two or more playoffs series 5 of the 7 years before the Moses trade has won 2 or more playoff series once in the 25 years since the trade.
Harold Katz would remain owner long enough to make the Barkley trade, and also to draft Shawn Bradley, Clarence Witherspoon, and Sharone Wright with top 10 picks. But despite all of the disastrous decisions he made over the years, none compares to that day in June of 1986 when he took a flamethrower to a dynasty. 25 years later, the franchise still hasn’t fully recovered.
On June 17, 1992, the Sixers made one of the worst trades in the history of the franchise. While some would say Charles Barkley had worn out his welcome in Philly by then, trading away a legitimate NBA superstar for three role players is never a good move.
The trade came after the 1991 – 1992 season, which was Barkley’s 7th year. By that point in his career, he had already earned 6 All-Star selections. In the ’91-’92 season, Barkley led the Sixers in points per game (23.1), led the team in rebounds per game (11.1), and was second on the team in assists per game (4.1). Barkley was the best player on that team and one of the best players of his, or any other generation. But as we all know, this trade wasn’t just about statistics.
Barkley’s temper and off-court behavior had been an ever-increasing distraction throughout the season and divided the locker room. Some of his own teammates questioned whether he wanted to win with the team as it became more and more was clear he wanted out of Philly. Doug Moe, the coach who would be taking over for Jim Lynam, saw that chemistry was an issue as the ’91-’92 season progressed and Barkley didn’t fit into his plan for the team. He also pointed to Barkley’s declining stat-line, as he had averaged almost 28 points in the ’90-’91 season. The front office agreed and Barkley was shopped extensively throughout the offseason, something he didn’t take kindly to:
That is typical of their insensitive organization. We’re not slaves who go to the highest bidder. Abe Lincoln freed us a long time ago. It was almost like, ‘Here’s some stud. We’ll give him to the highest bidder.’
On June 17, 1992 a trade was finalized with the Phoenix Suns. In exchange for Barkley, the Sixers received Guard Jeff Hornacek, Center Andrew Lang, and Forward, Tim Perry (a Temple product). According to Howard Katz, the Hornacek, Lang, Perry return was “by far the best deal offered.” The Sixers tried to get Kevin Johnson in return for Barkley, but the Suns weren’t willing to part ways with the All-Star guard.
Hornacek, Lang and Perry weren’t marquee names, weren’t nearly as talented or electrifying as Barkley, and weren’t leaders by any stretch of the word, but they also didn’t come with the baggage that Barkley carried. Baggage that included being in a Milwaukee court the day of the trade on assault charges stemming from a post-game fight in a parking lot in which he broke a man’s nose. The Inquirer summed up the trade quite nicely: “The six-time all-star, one of the finest players of his generation, was dealt away in exchange for youth, speed and perhaps a little peace and quiet.”
Screw peace and quiet. Wins are more important and this trade didn’t translate to success. The Sixers won only 35 games in Barkley’s final season with the team, but after the deal, the team’s position in the Atlantic Division plummeted. They won 26 games in ’93, 25 games in ’94 and 24 games in ’95. By then, Hornacek and Lang were no longer on the roster and Perry was playing less than 3 minutes per game. Meanwhile, Barkley went on to 5 more All-Star games, a trip to the NBA Finals and an MVP award during his Hall of Fame Career.
There’s only been 4 players in the history of the NBA who have amassed at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 4,000 assists, and we traded one of them for a whole lot of nothing.
Now that Shaq has finally retired, there’s going to be thousands of articles, blog posts, and stories memorializing his 19-year career. And rightfully so. Shaq was one of the most dominant players in the history of the NBA, period. But, was he THE most dominating player ever? PSH doesn’t think so. With our Philadelphia-centric slant, let’s take a look at how O’Neal’s career numbers stack up against Philly’s own Wilt Chamberlain.
|Shaquille O’Neal||Wilt Chamberlain|
|Points Per Game||23.7||30.1|
|Rebounds Per Game||10.9||22.9|
|Best Statistical Season||Los Angeles Lakers ’99-’00: 29.7 ppg/13.7 rpg||Philadelphia Warriors ’61-’62: 50.4 ppg/25.7 rpg|
|Scoring Titles||2||7 (consecutive)|
If that table isn’t enough, here are some other things to think about:
- Wilt has 4 of the 5 most prolific scoring games in NBA history: 100 on 3/2/62; 78 on 12/8/61; 73 on 1/13/62 and 11/16/62. Shaq’s highest output was 61 on 3/6/00. That was Shaq’s only 60+ point game; Wilt dropped in more than 60 points 15 times.
- If you look at the top 7 seasons for total rebounds, you’ll see Wilt’s name next to all of them. He led the league a total of 11 times. Shaq did not lead the league once in rebounds. Wilt’s best rebounding game was one in which he amassed 55…and he did it against Bill Russell. In Shaq’s best rebounding single game, he grabbed 28 rebounds against P.J. Brown and Armen Gilliam.
- In the ’67-’68 season, Wilt led the NBA in assists with 8.6 per game. He is the only center in history to lead the league in assists. Shaq’s highest season APG average is less than 4.
- Wilt shot 73% from the field in his last season, ’72-’73. Shaq’s best shooting percentage over the course of a season was 61%.
- Wilt averaged 45.8 minutes per game and he did not foul out once in the course of his career.
- Wilt scored 30+ points in 65 consecutive games during the ’61-’62 season, including 7 straight 50+ point games.
The NBA didn’t keep statistics on blocks or steals during Chamberlain’s career, but if it had we can all be sure Wilt’s numbers would dwarf Shaq’s. The Big Dipper was a bona fide game-changer: the guy was responsible for more rules changes than anyone else in the history of the game. Like I said, Shaq is one of the most dominant players in NBA history and comparing his numbers to Wilt’s shows just how special a player Chamberlain was.
Shaq apologists always raise the competition each player faced as a reason for Chamberlain’s astronomical numbers. I don’t buy it. Sure, the average size of Chamberlain’s opponents was smaller than those of O’Neals, but Chamberlain dominated because of his own size, speed, skill and strength. And since when does height compare to scoring dominance? (See: Shawn Bradley, Manute Bol, and George Muresan). Chamberlain played against 6’10” Bill Russell 142 times, which is a large enough sample size for his stats to mean something. During those games, Wilt had matching averages of 28.7 ppg and 28.7 rpg while Russell averaged 23.7 ppg and 14.5 rpg.
And don’t assume that in their primes, Shaq was stronger than Wilt. The 7’1″ 275 lbs. Chamberlain was a track star and devoted gym rat at Kansas. He even worked out with Arnold Schwarzenegger in California. He bench pressed 465 lbs. in college while Shaq could put up 450 lbs. People talked about Wilt’s strength more than anything:
The greatest play I’ve ever seen was one of the last games of the 1966—67 season and we were playing Baltimore. We were going for the best record in NBA history. There was a play earlier in the game where Gus Johnson had dunked one over Wilt. Gus was a very strong player. I weighed 220 pounds, and with one hand Gus could push me out of the lane. The man was a physical specimen 6-foot-6, 230 pounds all muscle. He loved to dunk and was a very colorful player. When he slammed it on Wilt, he really threw it down, and you could tell that Wilt didn’t like it one bit. Later in the game, Gus was out on the fast break, and the only man between him and the basket was Wilt. He was going to dunk on Wilt— again. Gus cupped the ball and took off—he had a perfect angle for a slam. Wilt went up and with one hand he grabbed the ball—cleanly! Then he took the ball and shoved it right back into Gus, drilling Gus into the floor with the basketball. Gus was flattened and they carried him out. It turned out that Gus Johnson was the only player in NBA history to suffer adislocated shoulder from a blocked shot. — Billy Cunningham
Once Wilt got upset with me and dunked the ball so hard that it went through the rim with such force. that it broke my toe as it hit the floor. — Johnny Kerr
In my rookie year, Wilt was involved in a pick-and- roll play and suddenly Bill Russell was off Wilt and guarding someone else, and I had Chamberlain. Wilt took me down near the basket and caught a pass. Being the bright kid out of Ohio State I thought I was, a I figured, “No problem. Wilt isn’t a good foul shooter. I’ll grab him.” Well, Wilt didn’t like being held. I reached around from behind and held both of his arms. He wasn’t going to let some rookie stop him, So Wilt took the ball—and me—up. He dunked the ball and I hung there on his arms, both of my feet off the ground and hanging on to Wilt’s arms for dear life until he put me down. — John Havlicek
Shaq’s numbers clearly don’t stand up to Wilt’s. And those who think Wilt dominated only because his competition was weak are painfully mistaken. Shaq was great, but Wilt was the best: the most athletic and dominant big man in the history of the NBA.