1962-1963: The NBA Season Philadelphia Never Had

As you may have known already, the 76ers haven’t always been in Philadelphia. They used to be in Syracuse. Philly had a team before the Sixers. They were the current Golden State Warriors. Yes, the Warriors were in Philly. But, you probably knew that too. This post is just a review of that season. I would imagine that most of Philadelphia probably didn’t really follow the NBA for that season. Look at the Warriors leaving. Then, details about the season. And then, how the 76ers came to town.

The season began with a shock. First, the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco and to the Western Division. In 1962, Franklin Mieuli purchased the majority shares of the team and relocated the franchise to the San Francisco Bay Area, renaming them the San Francisco Warriors, playing most of their home games at the Cow Palace in Daly City (the facility lies just south of the San Francisco border), though occasionally playing home games in nearby cities such as Oakland and San Jose. The Warriors, whose lineage in basketball dates back to the Philadelphia Sphas of the 1920s, had been a fixture for decades in Philadelphia, one of pro basketball’s essential cities. Their move caused the Cincinnati Royals to shift to the East. Finally, the Chicago franchise, changed its name from the Packers to Zephyrs.

The existence of a rival league, the American Basketball League, also was a big factor this year. Globetrotters’ owner and legend Abe Saperstein started the league as an act of revenge when he did not get an NBA franchise in Los Angeles. The Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles in 1960.

On the courts, the powerful Boston Celtics were building a dynasty. The Celtics didn’t have a player scoring 20 ppg, yet they won 58 games and another Eastern title. Bill Russell led Red Auerbach’s club from the middle with his shot blocking and rebounding, where he ranked a huge second place in the NBA. He was also seventh in the NBA in assists, remarkable for a center. Russell was named season MVP. Sam Jones had stepped in for Bill Sharman at shooting guard, after Sharman left to coach the ABL Los Angeles entry. Jones immediately led the club in scoring just as Sharman had, with his deadly banking jump shots. 34-year-old Bob Cousy quarterbacked his club one more time, but the 1950s superstar had clearly lost a step.

Los Angeles Lakers were now in their third year in California. The Lakers won 53 games and a second straight Western title. They were led by super forward Elgin Baylor, whose high-flying drives, surprising strength and all-around game awed many again this season. Baylor’s 34 points per game rated him second in the NBA only to Chamberlain. He was also fifth in rebounds and sixth in assists. No slouch on defense either, Baylor did it all for the Lakers. Third year star Jerry West battled injuries but continued to grow as a player also. He added 27 points per game and six assists for coach Fred Schaus, also his former college coach. The Lakers won 53 games and the NBA’s West Division, looking forward to their match-up with Boston.

The Syracuse Nationals were the league’s top offense, a fact they greatly helped at the foul line. Coach Alex Hannum’s club were led by the trio of center Johnny Kerr, promising young forward Lee Shaffer and guard Hal Greer. Long-time star Dolph Schayes gave it one more year as a reserve at age 34. The St. Louis Hawks had five ten-point scorers to support superstar Bob Pettit. The 6’9 230-pounder rated third in NBA scoring with 28.4 points per games and was fifth in rebounds as well. His 685 free throws made led the league. The Hawks also had the NBA’s top rated defense.

Boston got a huge scare from the Cincinnati Royals, who shocked Syracuse with an overtime win in Syracuse to win Game Five and that series. Cincinnati ownership was shocked too. They had booked Cincinnati Gardens for a circus, expecting a Royals loss in that series. The Royals had to play two of their home games against Boston elsewhere while pushing Boston the full seven games. Robertson’s huge play was boosted further by all-star Jack Twyman’ shooting. But Boston’s three 20-point scorers — Tommy Heinsohn, Russell and Jones — staved off the Royals charge. It was the beginning of a strong, underrated rivalry. Syracuse was hindered by the absence of Connie Dierking, who also had gone to the ABL, but refused to return to the club when that league folded.

In the West, St.Louis topped Don Ohl, Bailey Howell, Ray Scott and the Detroit Pistons three games to one to meet the Lakers in the second round. Detroit’s rookie Dave DeBusschere had a strong series off the bench as well in the losing effort. The Lakers and Hawks went the full seven games as well, with Baylor and Pettit trading big offensive games and rebounds. The difference was Laker guards West and Dick Barnett, the former ABL star.

The balance and depth of Boston would be too much for Baylor and West in the Finals despite their best efforts. The series went six games, with Boston winning the final one 112-109 in Los Angeles. Boston’s Bill Russell, who averaged over 20 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and several blocks per game for his 13 playoff games, was the difference again in the middle for his star-studded team.

By the early 1960s, the NBA’s Nationals were struggling. Syracuse was the last of the medium-sized cities, but it was too small for a professional team to be profitable. Paper magnate Irv Kosloff bought the Nationals from Danny Biasone and moved them to Philadelphia in 1963. The NBA thus returned to Philadelphia one year after the Warriors had left for San Francisco. A contest was held to decide on their new name and the winner was the late Walt Stahlberg. Their name was changed to the “76ers”, after 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. The nickname was quickly shortened to “Sixers” by headline writers, and the two names soon became interchangeable for marketing purposes.

It was an interesting season for sure on and off the court. And it came down to a classic Celtics vs Lakers finals battle. Meanwhile, our poor Sixers Nationals were upset. Judging by how even the Royal’s ownership wasn’t expecting a Royals’ win, the Nats messed up, in my attempt to be funny, royally. You have to love how “patriotic” the 76ers’ name is too. I would think it’s best to keep red, white, and blue as their team colors. Will Philadelphia miss another NBA season? Another random thought: Wonder if the WNBA will ever move to Philly. That would be cool. Wonder what their name would be. The Philadelphia Lady-Bells? (See, that’s why I’m not in charge of naming teams). Maybe just Liberty Bells but there’s already a Liberty team. I’m so ready to blog about that team.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post. Thanks for reading!

All info is my combined editing of Hoopedia and NBA.com

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