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Old People Sucked At Basketball
Author: Victor Olorunfemi
Here is a proposal that we only reference and use NBA achievements and statistics starting from the first season after the NBA-ABA merger in 1976-77, with all seasons before that been disregarded. This means that Karl Malone, not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is first on the all-time scoring list; the Los Angeles Lakers, not the Boston Celtics, are the most successful franchise of all time with 10 championships; Kobe's 81 points are the most ever scored in a game and Russell Westbrook is the only player to have averaged a triple-double over an entire season. Why start with the 1976 season, disregarding everything before, leaving out greats like Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell? Well, let me explain.
The NBA as advertised was established in 1946, and the inaugural season ended with the Warriors, then located in Philadelphia, winning the championship of what was an 11 team league, with each team playing 60 games. The first game ended with the New York Knicks defeating the Toronto Huskies 68-66. Joe Fulks was the top scorer for the season with 23 points a game, and no team averaged more than 80 points a game. However, after that initial season there would be an explosion in scoring.
The first 30 years of the NBA leading up to the 1976 season were full of outrageous numbers and incredible individual and team achievements. Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game and averaged 50 points a game in the 1961-62 season; Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics won 11 championships over a 13-year span and Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double in just his second year in the league. All of these accolades were incredible, but they were also highly inflated due to the trends of the game during those times.
It may seem ignorant to set aside some of the incredible achievements during this era, but it is important to look at things in the proper perspective. The majority of the NBA records still standing today are from that era. Walt's 100-point game has been around for 57 years, 8 of the 10 highest scoring seasons ever are from that time, all 10 of the highest rebounding seasons are from that time along with a bevy of other records. So why were these players so incredible? It is not that players in that era were so much more talented than today or that they had some secret juice that made them superior. Rather, the true reason is that they played in an inferior NBA that allowed them to accumulate arcade-like numbers.
Multiple NBA franchises also benefitted greatly from the pre-merger era, particularly the Boston Celtics. The Boston Celtics won 13 championships during this time mostly due to little salary cap regulations and the scarcity of elite teams and players in the league. What makes the lack of parity so apparent is the fact that nine of these championships came with less than 10 teams in the league.
Take Boston's 11 championships spanning from 1956-1969. All of those came with about 10 teams in the league each season. This was a common occurrence during the period before the merger: dominant performances in a league that never had more than 18 teams with some NBA owners who refused to sign black players.
The new NBA would start in 1976, 3 years before Larry Bird and Magic Johnson entered the league. This is kind of fitting if you think about how important Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were in revolutionizing the NBA. However, the first true star would be 1977 Finals MVP Bill Walton, as he led the Portland Trail Blazers to a 4-2 victory in the NBA Finals over the Philadelphia 76ers and Julius Erving. The 76ers would go on to make a few more finals in the next decade, but that period was dominated by the Magic Johnson led Los Angeles Lakers.
The post-merger era would recognize only 14 franchises with the 41 NBA Championships. The Los Angeles Lakers would have by far the most championship with ten, the Chicago Bulls would be second with 6 thanks to Michael Jordan, the Spurs would be the third most storied franchise with five and the Boston Celtics would have four.
The biggest change would occur in the record books, particularly single game records. Kobe's 81 is the most points ever scored in a game, and Moses Malone would have the record for most rebounds in a game at 37 instead of Wilt's 55, along with many other changes.
This is not suggesting that we forget about the great teams or the great players from the pre-merger era, but that we look at them in a different light. We look at it as the same sport but a different standard, similar to the way the NBA looks at ABA achievements: recognized, but not acknowledged. The NBA as we know it today started in 1976. Here are a few of the statistical changes that would reflect such:
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