50 Years Ago, Today. the Boston Celtics Win Their 11th NBA Championship, and 11th of the Previous 13 Seasons

For Bill Russell, the Championship is his 11th NBA title, and for Sam Jones, Playing in his Final game, It is His 10th.   For Both Men, All the Championships are Won with the Boston Celtics

The 11 NBA Championship Rings That Mr. Russell Won are the Most By Any One Player.  Sam Jones is All By Himself in the Number Two Spot in this Category with 10 Rings

Continuing with our Facebooks posts that celebrate noteworthy anniversaries, today we trumpet what is described in the headlines of this post.

But, of course, there is more information to add.  Please consider that this remarkable championship run included winning eight consecutive league crowns: 1959-1966.

As well, as we have noted on social media before, Willwork CEO William F. Nixon has a strong link and connection to the Boston Celtics.

Mr. Nixon’s career, prior to moving into the tradeshow and events biz, was as high school history teacher and sports coach. In fact, Mr. Nixon is one of the winningest high school basketball coaches in Massachusetts history, an accomplishment that gained him induction into the Massachusetts High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.

In his work and training as a basketball coach, Mr. Nixon was employed at many summer basketball camps at which he worked, learned from, and talked hoops with. several Boston Celtics, including Sam Jones, Tom “Satch” Sanders, Don Nelson, Larry Siegfried, Bailey Howell, Wayne Embry, Hank Finkel, Paul Silas, and Steve Kuberski.

Of all the Celtics, it was Sam Jones with whom Bill Nixon worked most often and closely.

If you click here, you will be taken to a post, titled, “A Shared Love of Basketball – and Teaching and Improving the Lives of Young People,” published in this space on February 29, 2016, that focuses on and features the work that Mr. Nixon and Mr. Jones did together as basketball mentors and coaches, their shared love of mentoring and coaching young people, their friendship, and parallels in their lives.

(And of note, Bill Nixon’s school basketball coaching was a substantive component – along with his achievements in coaching high school football, track and field, and baseball – of his election to the his induction to the hall of fame at his alma mater Stonehill College, and also the Oliver Ames High School Athletic Hall of Fame, with Oliver Ames being his place of work for more than 40 years.)

We also are obliged to mention, all relevant to this post, that the Boston Celtics are now engaged in – and are down two-games-to-one in the best-of –seven-game NBA playoff series – to maybe the best team in the league this year: the Milwaukee Bucks.  Game 4 is tomorrow night at the Boston Garden.

Yet we are focused here on 1969, not 2019.

Of the 17 NBA championships that the Boston Celtics franchise has won, the 1969 win is one for which a good argument could be made that it is the most special.

We explain.

That year, Boston, with a regular-season record of 48-34 (.585), claimed the final of four spots in the Eastern Division playoffs.  

The top seed in the Eastern Division were the Baltimore Bullets, which had the best regular-season record in the NBA that year at 57-25 (.695), followed by the Philadelphia 76ers at 55-27 (.671), and then the New York Knicks at 54-28 (.659).

Boston sort of limped – actually literally limped – into the playoffs.  For the team’s top star, center and player-coach, Bill Russell, was hampered by a sore knee.  And shooting guard, Sam Jones, in his final season, was playing with a strained hamstring.  (Mr. Jones had not been playing well, and had lost his starting position to Larry Siegfried.)

Increasingly, during the regular season and into the playoffs, the Celtics had been relying on  shooting-guard/small forward, John Havlicek, and power forward Bailey Howell. 

A new team dynamic for the Celts was developing, and had not yet gelled. 

This was not another installment of Celtics domination. 

Maybe next year, perhaps, Boston would be back on top.

Surely it wouldn’t even make to the finals this season.

Then again.  

In the first round of the playoffs, in the best-of-seven game series, Boston beat the second-seed Philadelphia 76ers four games to one, which earned it a date in the NBA Eastern Division finals against the third-seed New York Knicks, which had surprisingly, swept the top-seed Baltimore Bullets.

Boston won the Eastern Division playoff finals in six games.

The Boston Celtics were now the NBA finals against their perennial rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, a squad that had star power to match the Celts, with center Wilt Chamberlain having been acquired of the 1968-69 season from Philadelphia, and Elgin Baylor at forward, and Jerry West at guard.

Los Angeles had finished the regular season with the best record in the Western Division at 55-27, which tied it with the Philadelphia 76ers for the second-best record in the NBA overall.

Los Angeles defeated the San Francisco Warriors in six games, and the Atlanta Hawks in five games, to make it to the finals.

What team did Boston beat in the 1968 NBA finals?  Why that would be the Los Angeles Lakers.

In fact, prior to 1969, the Celtics and Lakers met seven times in the NBA finals, with one of those meetings coming in 1959 when the Lakers were the Minneapolis Lakers.  (The 1960-61 season was the Lakers’ first in LA.)

Boston won all of those previous seven engagements with Los Angeles.

During the 1968-69 regular season, Boston and LA met five times.  LA finished on top in that exchange, winning three of the games.

Most smart basketball minds felt that the Lakers would easily beat the Celtics.

LA was a better team.  It also had, by having a better regular-season record than the Celtics, the home-court -advantage, with the format the same as it is today: the first two games would be at the Los Angeles Forum, the next two at Boston Garden; then, if necessary, Game 5 was in LA, Game 6 in Boston, and then back to the Forum for Game 7.

On April 23, the day before the series opened, the New York Times ran a story with the following headline: “Lakers Rule as 11-5 Favorites Over Celtics Because of Wilt.”

Not many were surprised when the Lakers won the first two games. Both were squeakers though.  Bill Russell chose not to double-team Jerry West in either game, and Mr. West found ample opportunity to score, putting up 53 points in Game 1 and 41 points in Game 2.

Coach Russell went with a double-team on Mr. West in Game 3 on Sunday afternoon at Boston Garden.  Mr. West was off his game, but John Havlicek was on his, scoring 34 points, in a contest in which the Celts often had a double-digit lead, ultimately prevailing 111-105.

Two nights later, at the Garden, the Celtics were just about finished – until they weren’t.  The game was error-laden, with 50 turnovers, the final of which came with seven seconds left on the game clock, and LA leading 87-86, when Elgin Baylor stepped out of bounds while holding on to a rebound under the Boston hoop.

Bill Russell called time out.  It was down to one shot.  Make it and the series is knotted at two games a piece.  Miss it and the Celtics are down to elimination and heading back to the West Coast.

Coach Russell knew who he was going to; Sam Jones.  The ball was inbounded to John Havlicek on the right wing, who then passed to Mr. Jones coming off a triple screen.  Mr. Jones gathered the ball in the middle of the court, about 22 feet out, and jumping off the wrong foot arched a shot that rolled around the rim, hit the backboard, then fell through.

LA won Game 4 at home at the Forum, 117-104.  The Celtics evened the series at the Boston Garden with a 99-90 win.  In the game, Bill Russell continued to neutralize Wilt Chamberlain, and Mr. Chamberlain scored only eight points. 

On to Los Angeles and the deciding Game 7.

Boston went into the game with all sorts of motivation.  Let’s remember that it was a surprise that the team even made it to the finals. 

Then there was the decision of LA brass to harness to the ceiling of the Los Angeles Forum thousands of balloons that would be released when the game clock struck zero and LA had more points than did Boston. 

And, yet, even more of the Boston fires were stoked when Sam Jones found a sheet of paper courtside, which he shared with his teammates, on which were detailed the Laker schedule for a post-game championship celebration, with the University of Southern California (USC) band playing, balloons falling, and media interviews with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor, the biggest names on the 1969 NBA championship squad. 

In the locker room before the game, Bill Russell told his team; “There’s a lot of things that’s going on. But one thing that cannot go on. The Lakers cannot beat us. It’s not something that can happen.  But it’s going to be fun to watch them get those balloons out one at a time.”

For emphasis, Mr. Russell also told his team:  “Those balloons cannot fall tonight.”

They wouldn’t.

In his final NBA game, Sam Jones came up big, scoring 24 points.   Jerry West continued to put up crazy numbers, registering a triple-double:  42 points, 13 rebounds, and 12 assists.

Entering the final quarter, Boston was leading 91-76.  At the 7:05 mark, Sam Jones fouled out of the game, with Boston leading 101—89.  In tribute to Mr. Jones, leaving the court for the final time, the sold-crowd of more than 17,000 at the Los Angeles Coliseum rose in ovation.

With Sam out, LA came back.

There were a little more than five minutes left and LA had pulled to within seven at 103-96.  It was then (at the 5:13 mark to be exact) that Wilt Chamberlain, who was having a solid night, with 18 points (on seven-of-eight from the floor), banged his knee while pulling in his 21st rebound.  He exited the game, and Lakers coach Butch Van Breda Kolff replaced him with another seven-footer, Mel Counts.      

The Lakers were within a point, 103-102, with two minutes on the game clock, when Wilt Chamberlain told Coach van Breda Kolff he was ready to go back in.  Mr. Van Breda Kolff told Mr. Chamberlain, “We are doing all right without you,” and chose to keep Mr. Chamberlain on the bench.   

The score was still 103-102 with 1:33 left when Laker guard Keith Erickson slapped the ball away from John Havlicek and it ended up in the hands of Celtic forward Don Nelson at the foul line, whereupon, just ahead of expiration of the 24-second clock, Mr. Nelson tossed up a floater that resulted in the ball making one of the most memorable, and remarkable, two-point journeys in NBA playoff history – hitting the back of the rim and shooting 10 feet almost straight up before falling through the hoop.  

Boston by three. 

With 46 seconds on the scoreboard, Larry Siegfried gets called for shoving. 

LA still had a chance.

But on the next LA possession, Mel Counts drove the baseline and Bill Russell took the ball away.   Mr. Russell passed the ball to Mr. Siegfried. 

Thirty-four seconds to go. Boston 105 – Los Angeles 103.

Siegfried was fouled while shooting,  Twenty-four seconds are on the clock. Siegfried sinks both foul shots. 

Boston is up five.  

With the game clock equaling the 24-second shot clock, provided that the Celtics can hold on to the ball, and make fall shots, the title is theirs … again.

The Lakers still cannot score, for John Havlicek steals with the ball with 22 clicks of the clock remaining.  He is intentionally fouled by LA guard Johnny Egan with 15 seconds to go.  Havlicek makes the front-end of two shots.  LA grabs the rebound on the second miss.

A Johnny Egan jumper is off.   Elgin Baylor snares the rebound and is fouled while attempting a hook shot.  Seven seconds to go.   Boston leads by six.

Baylor makes both foul shots.  The Boston lead is four.

After a Celtics timeout, Mr. Havlicek at half-court, inbounds the ball to Bailey Howell, who holds the ball a few feet past midcourt on the Boston end.  Five seconds … four seconds … and Mel Counts slaps the ball loose to Mr. Egan.

Johnny Eagan drives to the basket.  Two seconds … three seconds … one second … Egan scores a layup.

And there is no time left.

Boston Celtics 108 – Los Angeles Lakers 106.

In the locker room after the game, in an on-air interview with ABC Sports, Sam Jones said this about the championship, and of his exit from the game of basketball as a player:

“This is one of the greatest.  I knew it was my last game, and I didn’t have to save up for next year or anything.   I tell you this ball club is great, a lot of pride.  I want to thank the fans back home in Boston. They’ve been wonderful.

For sure, as Sam Jones noted, the fans back home had been wonderful.

Then, again, the Boston Celtics and Sam Jones had given those fans lots of reasons, all sorts of reasons, and so, so much, for which to cheer.

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