Remembering Elgin Baylor: The Insane 1962 NBA MVP Race

In honor of the life of Elgin Baylor I decided to write this article about his incredible 1962 season as well as some of the other outstanding individual performances from the 1962 season that make it one of the greatest seasons of all times. In this season we saw records broken for points per game, minutes per game, blocks per game, and had the first player to average a triple double for a full season. And yet despite all of that, the most impressive 1962 performance likely came from Elgin Baylor, who didn’t break any records.

In 1962 the game was played at a breakneck place, but there wasn’t a lot of talent, so this meant tons of possessions and tons of rebound opportunities for the game’s top players. You also have to remember this is in fact 1962, so the media did not vote on the MVP; instead the MVP was voted on by the players themselves. This was a great advantage for a guy like Bill Russell, who was loved and respected by the rest of the league, and a disadvantage for Wilt Chamberlain who was viewed as an arrogant prick.

Without any more further ado lets get into the numbers of the candidates.

Bill Russell: 76 games, 18.9 points per game (career high), 23.6 rebounds per game, 4.5 assists, 15.5 win shares. The reigning MVP and 3x reigning NBA champion Bill Russell had one of his best seasons in 1961-62 averaging a career high in points per game, and leading the Celtics to a 60-20 record, the best in the NBA. It is important to note that Russell’s strengths were on the defensive end, but steals and blocks were not yet calculated. It is projected that if data had been kept, Russell would’ve averaged about 8.6 blocks per game.

Wilt Chamberlain: 80 games, 48.5 minutes per game (NBA record), 50.4 points per game (NBA record), 25.7 rebounds per game, 2.4 assists, 23.1 win shares. The 1962 season was also probably the best season for the all time great Wilt Chamberlain, and the records he set this season for minutes and points per game will never be broken. Unfortunately NBA politics and the Philadelphia Warriors 49-31 record would have some influence on the voting.

Oscar Robertson: 80 games, 30.3 points per game, 12.5 rebounds per game, 11.4 assists per game (1 of 2 players in NBA history to average a triple double for an entire season), 15.6 win shares. This is also the signature season of Oscar Robertson’s career as he became the first NBA player to ever average a triple double (he came .1 rebounds shy of repeating this feat the next season). Unfortunately, his Cincinnati Royals team sputtered to a 43-37 record.

Elgin Baylor: 48 games played, 38.3 points per game, 18.6 rebounds per game, 4.6 assists per game, 7.9 win shares. You may notice the eye popping numbers from Elgin Baylor, and you also might notice that he only played in 48 games. This is not because he was injured however. Elgin was serving on active military duty and was only able to get discharged on weekends to go meet up with the Lakers wherever they were playing. Elgin averaged over 38 points per game while actively serving in the military and not even practicing with his teammates. Obviously with only playing 48 games it was unlikely that Elgin would win MVP, but nonetheless this is one of the most impressive feats in NBA history.

So who won the MVP?: For the second straight year Bill Russell won the MVP receiving 51 out of a possible 85 first place votes. The rest of the votes played out like this, Chamberlain (9 first place votes), Oscar (13 votes), Elgin (3 votes), Jerry West (6 votes), Bob Pettit (2 votes), Richie Guerin (1 vote). A lot of people will say that Russell is undeserving of the MVP and this is mostly because it it hard to put into context just how dominate of a defensive player he was. Russell and Wilt matched up in the NBA playoffs and after averaging over 50 points per game for the season Wilt was held to just 33 points per game in a 7 game series loss to Russell’s Celtics.

Russell and the Celtics ended up adding another championship at the end of the 1961-62 season defeating Elgin’s Lakers in a fantastic 7 game series. Bill Russell took his game to another level averaging 22.9/27/5.7 over the 7 game series. Elgin was pretty awesome in the defeat putting up his own ridiculous stat line of 40.6/17.9/3.7.

The pace of the game and the talent gap of this era made way to the perfect storm of individual performance and led to probably the greatest MVP race of all time.

One Reply to “Remembering Elgin Baylor: The Insane 1962 NBA MVP Race”

  1. Very detailed and very well written. Brings back fond memories of Elgin.

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