Other fellas call me up for a date
But I'll just sit and wait
I'd rather concentrate
On Johnny Angel
Today, 2 or 3 lines is asking for your help.
Over fifty years ago, a terrible injustice was committed in this country. That injustice was so obvious that it’s hard to believe that it could have happened. But it did.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s better late than never when it comes to correcting injustice. But I can’t do it alone . . . which is why I’m asking all loyal 2 or 3 lines readers for help.
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Even casual fans of professional basketball are well aware that Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder is having an amazing season.
Currently, Westbrook is leading the lead in scoring with a 31.8 points per game average.
But Westbrook is no one-trick pony. He is averaging 10.4 assists per game, the 3rd-best number in the NBA. And he is pulling down 10.6 rebounds a game, putting him in the NBA’s top ten rebounders – a remarkable feat for a point guard who is only 6 feet, 3 inches tall.
In other words, Westbrook is averaging a “triple double” per game. A “triple double” is when a basketball player player reaches double digits in three of the five statistical categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocked shots. It’s very difficult to achieve double digits in steals or blocks, so most triple doubles involve points, rebounds, and assists.
Many people expect Westbrook to win the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award even though his team is not a serious contender for the NBA title. That’s because averaging a triple double for an entire season is an almost unprecedented achievement.
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The only NBA player who previously averaged a triple double over an entire season was Oscar Robertson, who accomplished that feat in the 1961-62 season.
If you told me that Oscar Robertson was the greatest basketball player of all time, I wouldn’t argue with you.
Robertson – who was known as “The Big O” – scored 24 points a game as a senior to lead his high school team to an undefeated season and an Indiana state championship.
At the University of Cincinnati, he averaged an incredible 33.8 points per game – only Pete Maravich exceeded his career college scoring average.
After college, Robertson co-captained the U.S. basketball team at the 1960 Summer Olympics. The gold medal-winning American team won its games by an average of over 42 points, and Robertson tied for the team lead in scoring.
“The Big O” came close to averaging a triple double in his rookie NBA season, when he averaged 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 9.7 assists per game – astonishing numbers for a 22-year-old rookie.
Robertson did average a triple double in his very next season, which was 1961-62. He led the league in assists and finished fifth in scoring. (If he had scored only a point more per game, he would have been the second-leading scorer in the league.) And he was a real iron man – he was second in the league in total minutes played.
Not surprisingly, Robertson was named to the all-NBA team, along with fellow Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Bob Pettit, and Wilt Chamberlain . . . ALL OF WHOM AVERAGED OVER 30 POINTS PER GAME THAT SEASON. In fact, those five players averaged over 30 points a game for a season a total of 23 times – which is over one-third of the 30 points per game seasons in NBA history.
(You’d be hard pressed to find a better all-NBA team. I’ll take those five guys – who all played in the 1961-62 season – and I’ll give you all the other players who ever played professional basketball to choose from. I think my team beats your team.)
Was Robertson the 1961-62 Most Valuable Player? You’d think so, wouldn’t you?
But he finished not first . . . not second . . . but third in the MVP balloting.
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You’re no doubt thinking that the terrible injustice I talked about at the beginning of this post is Robertson’s failure to win the MVP in 1961-62.
But believe it or not, Robertson clearly didn’t deserve to win the MVP that season.
The player who should have been the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 1961-62 was Wilt Chamberlain, who averaged a mind-boggling 50.4 points per game! (Not only was Wilt a prolific scorer, he was an efficient one: Wilt was second in the league in shooting percentage.)
(By the way, Chamberlain had the second-best season scoring average ever in the following season, when he tallied 44.8 points per game. No one other than Chamberlain has ever averaged more than 37.6 points per game over the course of an entire NBA season, and he did it twice – and not by just a few tenths of a point, nosiree bob!)
It’s inconceivable that Chamberlain’s 50.4 points per game record will ever be broken, even with the three-point basket becoming more and more common. (Keep in mind that the three-point basket hadn’t been invented when Chamberlain played.)
But Chamberlain wasn’t just a scorer. He also averaged 25.6 rebounds per game, which was the third best mark in league history. (Chamberlain had even more rebounds per game in his two previous seasons.)
And Chamberlain simply never, ever came out of the game. No one played more minutes that season than Wilt.
By all advanced metrics, Chamberlain was the best offensive player in the NBA by far. So who won the MVP?
The best defensive player in the league, Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics.
Russell wasn’t a bad offensive player. He averaged a respectable 18.9 points per game in 1961-62, which ranked #16 in the league. (Keep in mind that there were only nine NBA teams in 1961-62. If you assume that the five starters and maybe one bench player per team got significant playing time, that means Russell wasn’t even in the top quartile when it came to scoring.)
Russell was a great rebounder. In fact, he was the second-best rebounder in the NBA that year . . . but he was second to Wilt Chamberlain!
Scoring is much sexier than playing defense. But you could certainly argue that the best defensive player is as worthy a MVP candidate as the best offensive player.
There’s only one problem with making that argument with regard to Russell and Chamberlain in 1961-62. Wilt was not only by far the best offensive player in the league. He also ranked as the second-best defensive player in the league if you use defensive win shares as the measurement, while defensive maven Russell ranked only #18 in offensive win shares.
If you combine offensive and defensive win shares, Chamberlain finishes first in overall win shares by a large margin. Russell ranks only fourth – which is very good, but which pales in comparison to Wilt.
Yet Russell was ranked first on 51 of the 85 MVP ballots that year. (In 1961-62, the NBA players selected the league’s most valuable player.) Chamberlain was ranked #1 on only nine ballots.
You’ve got to think that Wilt was not as well-liked as Russell – you simply can’t explain the one-sided voting results any other way.
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There was one other terrible injustice in the 1961-62 NBA MVP voting.
Rookie center Walt Bellamy of the Chicago Packers (who had the worst record in the NBA that year) also had a phenomenal season.
He was second in the league in scoring (31.6 points per game) and had the best shooting percentage of any NBA player. And he was third in rebounding, behind only Russell and Chamberlain.
If you combined offensive and defensive win shares, Bellamy ranked as the second-best player in the league – well behind Wilt, but slightly ahead of Russell and Oscar Robertson. And he did that for the worst team in the league, meaning that his opponents could concentrate on shutting him down because his teammates weren’t very good.
Bellamy was named the league’s rookie of the year. But not a single one of the 85 NBA players who voted for MVP that year put him anywhere on his ballot – much less in the top spot.
That may be due to the fact that the MVP ballot back then allowed you to rank only your top three choices. Given the dominance of Chamberlain and Russell, the players may have been hesitant to name three centers on their ballots, ignoring all the great guards and forwards in the league.
Bellamy arguably had a better season than Bill Russell. But he was a rookie who played on the worst team in the league, while Russell would lead the Celtics to their fifth NBA championship in the six seasons he had been a pro in 1961-62.
Bellamy is a Hall of Famer, and one of only seven players to score over 20,000 points and grab more than 14,000 rebounds in his NBA career. But his impressive individual achievements were overshadowed by the great centers (Russell, Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) whose careers overlapped his. He received only a single third-place MVP vote over the course of his 14 NBA seasons.
It didn’t help that Bellamy was a bit of a nomad, playing for six different teams in his 14 years in the league – none of whom ever won a championship. (His teams missed the playoffs as often as they made them, and he played in only one NBA finals series.)
Walt Bellamy, who died in 2013, was a great player, especially in 1961-62. Perhaps he wasn’t as good that year as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, or Oscar Robertson, but very few NBA players can hold a candle to those three guys.
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The 1962 NBA championship went to the Boston Celtics, who beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals that year, four games to three.
The seventh and deciding game was an overtime thriller. Bill Russell had 30 points and a record 40 rebounds in that game. Maybe he did deserve that MVP after all.
“Johnny Angel” occupied the top spot on the Billboard “Hot 100” while the Celtics and Lakers were squaring off that year.
The song debuted during an episode of The Donna Reed Show. Shelley Fabares, who sang “Johnny Angel,” had a long and successful acting career but never cracked the top twenty again.
There were a lot of lame #1 songs in 1962 – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Duke of Earl,” “Peppermint Twist,” “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,” and “Monster Mash” among them.
Here’s “Johnny Angel”:
Click below to buy the song from Amazon: