With the start of the 2021-22 NBA season, pundits and fans alike are on their merry way picking favorites as to who will win the MVP award. Nikola Jokic is the current champion, becoming the first Serbian and second-round pick to win the award.
While there have been various MVP races as several players throw their hats in the ring every season with incredible performances, the 1962 race was the most stacked in NBA history. One could argue that either of the top contenders could have won it, and it would be well-deserved.
The MVP is typically selected by a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters, with each member having the right to place one vote from first to fifth. But up until the 1980-81 NBA season, the MVP was decided by a vote of NBA players.
Richie Guerin and Bob Cousy deserve honorable mention as they were brilliant in that season. Cousy averaged 15.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 3.5 rebounds while shooting 3.1% from the field. For his effort, he earned three MVP points.
Guerin, on the other hand, had the best scoring season of his career, averaging 25.9 points, 6.9 assists, and 6.4 rebounds. Despite his All-Star season, he won only five MVP points and finished in 7th in the 1962 MVP race.
6. Bob Pettit - 31 MVP Points Won
Stats: 31.1 PPG, 18.7 RPG, 3.7 APG, 45.0 FT%, 77.1 FT%
Bob Pettit was a scoring machine, being the first player in NBA history to score 20,000 points. He joined the NBA in 1954 after he was selected with the second overall pick by the Milwaukee Hawks in the 1954 NBA draft.
Pettit wasted no time in making his presence felt in the NBA, averaging 20.4 points as a rookie. In his sophomore year, he won the scoring title after averaging 25.7 points and 16.2 rebounds while shooting 42.9% from the field.
Although it was a close race, Petitt was not among the top contenders as he only got 31 MVP points despite averaging 31.1 points and 18.7 rebounds. In his 11 seasons with the Milwaukee/St Louis Hawks, he was called to 11 All-NBA teams and also made 11 All-Star appearances. The two-time MVP also led the charge against Cousy and the Boston Celtics to win an NBA championship in 1958.
5. Jerry West - 60 MVP Points Won
Stats: 30.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 5.4 APG, 44.5 FG%, 76.9 FT%
Jerry West was only a sophomore in the NBA but contested with some of the best players in that era for the MVP title. The 23-year-old was responsible for leading the Lakers to the top of the Western Division after Elgin Baylor was only available for the first 48 games.
To date, West is the only player that has won the NBA Finals MVP despite being on a losing team. He was given the award after averaging 37.9 points in the finals after a riveting seven-game series.
In the 1961-62 season, West came up short in the MVP race, winning only 60 MVP votes from fellow players. He averaged 30.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists and was the LA Lakers' second-best scorer that season behind Elgin Baylor.
4. Elgin Baylor - 82 MVP Points Won
Stats: 38.3 PPG, 18.6 RPG, 4.6 APG, 42.8 FG%, 75.4 FT%
Baylor was the alpha in the LA Lakers before the arrival of Wilt Chamberlain in the 1968-69 season. Despite being one of the best small forwards in NBA history, he never won the MVP award or an NBA championship.
Elg won 82 MVP points from a total of 425 that was achievable. Perhaps he could have ranked higher if he featured in more games for the Lakers. Due to his call to active duty in the US Army that season, he only played when he had weekend passes, resulting in 48 appearances. Even so, he scored over 1800 points.
Although he never won a scoring title either, he was a certified bucket-getter. A scoring that stands to date is his 61-point game against the Celtics in Game 5 of the 1962 NBA Finals. Michael Jordan and Rick Barry's 55 points are the closest a player has come to Baylor's record in an NBA Finals game.
3. Oscar Robertson - 135 MVP Points Won
Stats: 30.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 11.4 APG, 47.8 FG%, 80.3 FT%
Point guards are not placed as high as big men in the NBA, and it showed in the 1961-62 NBA season when Oscar Robertson was not awarded the MVP title. That, to many, was the biggest MVP snub in league history.
Robertson averaged a triple-double that season and led the Cincinnati Royals to a second-place finish in the NBA Western Division. That did not count for much as he won only 135 MVP votes to finish in third place.
The Big O led the league in assists for seven of the 14 seasons he spent in the NBA. He also led the league in triple-doubles with 181 before Russell Westbrook overtook him in the 2020-21 season.
2. Wilt Chamberlain - 152 MVP Points Won
Stats: 50.4 PPG, 25.7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 50.6 FG%, 61.3 FT%
Wilt Chamberlain holds the record for the most points in a single game. He registered 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors on March 2, 1962, against the New York Knicks in their 169-147 victory.
Chamberlain posted unreal numbers in the 1961-62 season, averaging a career-high 50.4 points and 48.5 minutes per game. While that looks like an error at first glance, he missed only eight minutes of action following an ejection but played every minute of every other game that season, including seven overtime.
Given his level of contribution in helping the Philadelphia Warriors clinch the second spot in the Eastern Division, one could argue that no one was more deserving than The Big Dipper. He only got 152 points, 35.8% of the maximum points available.
1. Bill Russell - 297 MVP Points Won
Stats: 18.9 PPG, 23.6 RPG, 4.5 APG, 45.7 FG%, 59.5 FT%
Bill Russell also averaged a career-high 18.9 points per game and pulled down 23.6 rebounds. However, he successfully won 297 MVP points to win the race in 1962. That accounted for the third of five MVP awards he won through the course of his 13-year career.
That same season, he led the Boston Celtics to another NBA championship. He was the pillar behind the C's dominance in the 1960s. Russell also holds the record for most championships won in the NBA, with 11 in 13 seasons played.
Russ' awards and career highlights are too numerous to mention as he could pass as the most decorated player in NBA history. Although his points tally might not be as high-up as Chamberlain's, his effort on defense is a lot more superior.
The 1962 MVP Race Was the Best in NBA History
The NBA MVP race is always a tense affair, but we've never witnessed another that was quite as intense. It was anybody's title as most of the top contenders recorded career-best numbers.
As with every MVP award dished out, it does not boil down to just individual brilliance, which is why many of the top names with record-breaking numbers on the list lost to Russell. The team's success is also a huge factor considered as Russell's Celtics had a 60-20 record, which was the best in the league.
Despite Chamberlain's exquisite scoring, the Warriors mustered 49 wins while West's Lakers managed 54. Robertson's Royals had a less impressive 43 wins. Nonetheless, we might never witness another MVP race as intense as the 1961-62 race in the NBA.
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