Like any decade in the history of the NBA the sixties had its great players. Although several started their pro careers in the fifties, they all played the bulk of their careers in the sixties. Most of them were immediate superstars and impact players. My five best players and the players I would start on a sixties 12 man, all-star team against any team in the world are: Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain.
Robertson would be the point guard, West the shooting or off guard, Baylor the small forward, Russell the power forward, and Chamberlain the center. In my starting five I have maybe the best point guard ever in the NBA (my estimation), one of the top five shooting guards, and one of the top ten small forwards,. Russell, of course, was not a power forward, he was one of the most dominant centers ever. But he would make a great power forward especially on defense. Chamberlain I consider the greatest center ever.
To fill out the roster I would have guards Sam Jones, John Havlicek, and Hal Greer, forwards, Rick Barry, Billy Cunningham, Willis Reed, and Nate Thurmond at center. With these twelve players I would whip any team currently in the NBA and compete extremely well against any NBA all-star teams of any other decade. Reed is another center who I would also play at power forward. I’m leaving off some other excellent sixties players like Luke Jackson, Connie Hawkins, Guy Rodgers, and Jerry Lucas.
Just look at my team. I have the greatest point guard ever in Robertson and the greatest center. I have on of the best off guards ever in West who also played pg on occasion for the Lakers. The only player I see rivaling Robertson as all-time best pg is Magic Johnson. In today’s NBA Robertson would still rival the stats he achieved in his Cincy days. He would immediately average 25 ppg and 10 apg. Plus be the league’s best rebounding guard. West would have no problem averaging over 20 ppg today with 8-10 apg. He’d probably lead the league in steals as well. Baylor would be mighty tough to handle as a sf even at 6’5. He was exceptionally strong and almost averaged 20 rpg one season. Even considering the run and gun style of the years he played, that’s a tremendous stat. for a 6’5 player. Remember the average height of an NBA player in those days was only about 1 1/2 inches less than today. Think of a faster, quicker, better jumping Charles Barkley. And almost as strong.
With Russell and Chamberlain I have two of the premier shot-blockers in league history. Russell was only 6’9 in height, but his tremendous wingspan made him play a lot taller. He also had great leaping ability, reflexes, timing, and speed. Chamberlain was maybe the best athletic specimen in league history considering length, jumping ability, speed, strength, and coordination. Shotblocking stats weren’t kept in those days, but both probably averaged about ten blocks a game. I’m trying to find a center today who could stop the young Chamberlain from scoring an easy 30 ppg. He’d also get 20 rpg.
My reserve players have speed, size, athletic ability, defense (Thurmond rivaled Russell and Chamberlain for blocking shots) and shooting ability I almost chose Barry as sf on my starting five, but like Cunningham, he also played excellent ball into the seventies. A number of people think Barry was the single best forward from the seventies. I think they’re right. Barry was maybe the fastest forwards in the NBA at that time and reputedly could beat any player on the ’75 Warrior championship team in a foot race. Barry led the Warriors to the championship in ’75 and led the league in scoring. He should have easily been MVP but didn’t win the award.
Cunningham was like another Baylor in his style of play. An excellent leaper with speed and quickness who went to the basket. Havilicek was known for his relentless, all-around style of play and his stamina. When other players were gassed after forty minutes of ball,. Havllicek was still going strong. He also had excellent speed (he almost made the Cleveland Browns as a wide receiver.) Willis Reed was probably the best outside shooting big man of the sixties, but he was also tough on defense. Along with Walt Frazier he led the Knicks to two titles. Sam Jones was the go-to guy on offense for the Celtics during their glory days. He was fast and was known for his bank shots. Hal Greer was thought by many to be the fastest man in the league and was a great outside shooter. He also did a lot of ballhandling for the great Sixers teams of those years. He was astonished one time when beaten by Chamberlain in a foot race during practice.
For those modern fans who think the players from yesterday could not compete today because they’d be athletically inferior, let me disabuse you of that thought. There’s no current NBA team that has the sixties all-stars combination of speed, strength, spring. Plus the sixties all-stars had great shooting and passing ability. Robertson is in the top two best passers ever. But West, while not in Robertson’s class as a passer, averaged close to ten assists several years, and Baylor and Barry are two of the best passing forwards ever. Even Chamberlain and Russell were excellent passers. Wilt led the league in assists one year. But the sixties players also had tremendous intelligence and desire. The last two qualities are what would make the sixties all-stars so formidable even against teams like the Heat.
The Heat is the only team that could put up a semi-decent fight on nights when their big three were playing well. But even they’d stlll get trounced by 20 points minimum. The other NBA teams would have problems not getting beat by 30 or more. There’s only a few current NBA centers who would have the physical ability to put up a respectable defense against Chamberlain: Dwight Howard and maybe Andrew Bynum. For the rest it would be a joke for them to try to stop Wilt. Nobody could stop Robertson from getting into the lane or West and Baylor either. The opposing teams would have to pick their poison: either gang up on Wilt and leave Robertson and West to shoot open 12-15 footers, or try to play Wilt straight up in which case he’d get 40-50 every night.
Another thing that should be mentioned is the rules. In those days there was no 3 point shot. The game is almost totally different from fifty years ago in strategy. No teams played a long ball kind of offense. If you look at clips from those days, most shots were taken within 20 feet of the basket. I’ve watched numerous games from that era when they played live on tv and the few that are available on the internet which I still find enjoyable. What an observer will notice about those games is how hard the teams tried to get ball as close to the basket as possible before taking a shot.
However, in the games between the all-stars and the current NBA teams I would allow them to use the current 3 point shot. I doubt the sixties players would take more than a few, but a few of their players like West, Greer, and Barry could probably hit their share. But for the most part you’d be seeing the sixties players trying to get the ball as close to the basket as possible.
A number of current NBA teams could rival the sixties all-stars in raw athletic ability or even exceed them. Lebron James might be the single most athletically gifted player ever rivaling Chamberlain. Even many of the worst teams in the NBA today have rosters filled with tremendous athletic specimens. I have League Pass and I see numerous games. But many of these great athletes are very poor ballplayers. The sixties all-stars would not only rival the best athletic teams in that particular area, they’d far outdistance them in the three other chief pillars of a great team or player: skills, desire, and intelligence.
So here’s to the sixties all-stars. One of my greatest desires is that today’s fans could see them play those games against the teams in the current NBA. It would be an eye-opener for many younger fans who think basketball began about twenty years ago. It’s highly amusing to read comments by young fans who think players from even just twenty years ago couldn’t play today. I even knew a co-worker who said Larry Bird, ten years after he retired couldn’t play in the NBA because he thought he was too slow . And that’s with “speedy” players like Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Luis Scola considered all-stars or future hofers. They would be in for quite a shock when they’d see today’s mostly mediocre centers try to stop Chamberlain and company.