The National Basketball Association season moved into its second quarter with a combination of ups, downs and outs. Boston, expectedly, and Los Angeles, unexpectedly, were up and running away from their division pursuers. Chicago, the league's newest entry, and St. Louis were down. Hawk Coach Paul Seymour was out—replaced by former Hawk Coach Fuzzy Levane.
Neither the quick temper of Coach Red Auerbach nor the bad knee of Bob Cousy could stop the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Division. Auerbach was suspended for three games, but the Celtics won all three under Player-Coach Cousy. When Cousy's knee was injured other Celtics made the points. Without a leader in the top 10, Boston got balanced scoring from Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey and Sam Jones (Bill Sharman was hardly missed) and Bill Russell, the league's premier defenseman. Russell stuffed basketballs down the throats of shocked opponents and captured rebounds at a rate second only to Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain. In between his rebounding Wilt added another record to the books. He scored 78 points against Los Angeles with the aid of three overtimes, came back the next afternoon to hit 61. To date, he has played 25 straight games without a second on the bench. The Warriors could only split the two games, however, causing Freshman Coach Frank McGuire to complain that the opposition was using the outlawed zone defense against Wilt. Showing weakness up front ("We never know what to expect," says Syracuse President Dan Biasone), the Nationals were alternately hot and cold. Dolph Schayes was scoring but lacked his usual strength under the backboards. Pop-shooter Larry Costello perked up the back-court and rookie Lee Shaffer showed well. No matter how hard they tried, the New York Knickerbockers didn't show a thing. A new coach, Eddie Donovan from St. Bonaventure, an improved Johnny Green and a hot-handed Richie Guerin (the league's fourth-best scorer) failed to meet New York's crying need: a good big man.
The Los Angeles Lakers were the class of the Western Division, with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West among the top performers. Baylor was second in league scoring with a 34.6 average and fourth in rebounds. West was sixth in scoring (28.7) and fifth in assists. Baylor even took the loss of his single-game scoring record lightly. After Chamberlain's 78 broke Baylor's mark of 71, the Laker forward was asked if he thought the achievement was somewhat clouded by the three overtimes. "Baloney," said Baylor. "Wilt has the record, period." The Lakers were still worried by Baylor's January draft call, but Coach Fred Schaus hoped for a reprieve on four counts: 1) Baylor's dependency claim, 2) a neck twitch, 3) a change in the Government's plans and 4) "I need him." Concentration on defense, steady scoring from Oscar Robertson and Jack Twyman and the improvement of Wayne Embry at center changed the Cincinnati Royals from a last-place team to a first-place challenger. "In this league," said GM Pep Wilson, "you can always make up the scoring opportunities. You can't make up what you lose on defense." The Royals were better on defense and second in their division. After a slow start the Detroit Pistons showed signs of new vigor. Stalwarts Gene Shue and Bailey Howell broke out of slumps and began hitting again. Exciting rookies John Egan and Ray Scott were improving on schedule and second-year Guard Don Ohl added an outside scoring threat to the Detroit offense. "We're getting a lot of points out of a lot of guys," said Coach Dick McGuire, explaining his team's success. The St. Louis Hawks, getting a lot of points out of only three guys, were in sharp decline. Bob Pettit, Clyde Lovellette and Cliff Hagan scored heavily in the front court (72.8 average), but the backcourt missed Len Wilkens, now in the Army. The Chicago Packers were playing as expected—in last place—in their first season. Old hand Bob Leonard shot well from outside and was being helped considerably by Si Green, recently acquired in a trade from St. Louis. Rookie Walt Bellamy topped the league in shooting percentage with .506, refused to give an inch in the rough battling under the basket.
December 18, 1961
The American Basketball League had two main problems, long trips (Washington, D.C. to Hawaii) and short crowds. The leading teams were the Kansas City Steers in the Western Division and the Cleveland Pipers in the Eastern Division. Coached by former St. John's University player and pro star Jack McMahon, KC won eight straight, paced by Kansas U's Bill Bridges, before suffering a loss to Bill Sharman's LA Jets. Cleveland, using a team taken intact from the National Industrial Basketball League, had a slim lead over the Pittsburgh Rens.
Shunning the traditional soft openers, colleges swung into the season with cross-country tours and first-rate games. USC beat Kentucky 79-77 at Lexington and came home to dump Kansas 78-70, with John Rudometkin getting 27 points. National Champion Cincinnati, combining good defense with its alert attack, trounced Wisconsin 86-67. Ohio State won three big ones, beating Pittsburgh 99-79, Wichita 85-62 and Wake Forest (at Winston-Salem, N.C.) 84-62. Mississippi State, sharpening up for defense of its SEC championship, won four, and Florida State outshuffled the Auburn shufflers 56-52. West Virginia beat three of the leading contenders in the Southern Conference, with backcourters Rod Thorn and Jim McCormick leading the attack. Utah's Bill (The Hill) McGill got 51 points against West Texas State, led the Redskins to two wins. Santa Clara, boomed as the cream of northern California, was off winging with four straight wins. After one week of play, Texas and Texas A&M had the only unbeaten Southwest Conference records. NIT champion Providence and NYU, Princeton and Penn came through handsomely in early games in the East, while 6-foot-10 Center LeRoy Ellis led St. John's to a 79-65 win over George Washington in the Redmen's first game at new Alumni Hall. In some places, however, the rugged schedules hurt; Indiana, Arizona and Georgia Tech were among the early, unexpected losers. Tech's loss to Georgia 70-67 was the first time in 11 games the Jackets bowed to the Bulldogs.