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1969–70 NBA season
League National Basketball Association
Sport Basketball
TV partner/s ABC
Regular season
Season MVP Willis Reed (New York)
Top scorer Jerry West (L.A. Lakers)
Playoffs
Eastern champions New York Knicks
Eastern runners-up Milwaukee Bucks
Western champions Los Angeles Lakers
Western runners-up Atlanta Hawks
Finals
Finals champions New York Knicks
Runners-up Los Angeles Lakers
Finals MVP Willis Reed (New York)
NBA seasons
←1968–69

1970–71 →

The 1969–70 NBA Season was the 24th season of the National Basketball Association. The season ended with the New York Knicks winning the NBA Championship, beating the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 3 in the NBA Finals.


Notable occurrences

  • The 1970 NBA All-Star Game was played at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with the East beating the West 142–135. Willis Reed of the New York Knicks wins the game's MVP award.
  • One of the most memorable sports moments occurred before Game 7 of the NBA Finals as an injured Willis Reed emerged unto the Madison Square Garden floor shortly before tip-off. Although he only played a few minutes, the rejuvenated Knicks beat the Lakers 113–99 to win the championship.
  • This was the final season of the two-division format in the NBA, before the Eastern and Western Divisions were divided into the Eastern and Western Conferences, with each conference having two divisions.

Season recap

The NBA headed into a new era as well as a new decade this season. The new era started because Bill Russell had retired. His incredible wins the last two years were as legendary as the rest of his career. But now the NBA could look ahead to see who the Next Great Team would be. There were plenty of entries to choose from.

Even more than the Baltimore Bullets a year ago, the New York Knickerbockers were clearly The Team of this season. The Knicks, as they were well-known, had a solid team of players led by star center Willis Reed and rising star guard Walt Frazier. Dave DeBusschere as well played a huge role next to Reed, while combining with Frazier to anchor the league's best defense. With a solid young bench and only one player over age 29, Red Holzman's club won 60 of its 82 NBA games to top the league.

The still very-new Milwaukee Bucks, in just their second season, lurched from 27 to 56 wins this year behind rookie superstar Lew Alcindor. The 7' 2 230-pounder ruffled some feathers a year ago in boycotting the Mexico City Olympics, urging Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld and Bob Lanier to do the same. But the Power Memorial high school legend and UCLA champion rated as the finest basketball prospect perhaps ever seen. Milwaukee was giddy to get the rights to him, which took place after a huge bidding war with the ABA. The rookie averaged 29 points a game, second best in the NBA. He was also third in rebounds, seventh in shooting accuracy, second in minutes played, and blocked more shots than any center since Russell or Chamberlain. His 1810 shots tried were the second most in the league, with 52% going into the net. His 743 free throw tries were third most as well, as the whole league struggled to adjust to him. He was a terrific MVP candidate that very first year. Coach Larry Costello's team had a good backcourt of Jon McGlocklin and Flynn Robinson, two ex-Cincinnati Royals and some others to support his giant star, but Alcindor largely doubled his teams wins almost single-handedly. The Bucks led the league with 49% shooting behind Alcindor and McGlocklin.

One other team made the 50-win level, and that was Baltimore's Bullets. Gene Shue's squad played their talented starting five hard this year as the team looked to improve on their playoff flop a year ago. Earl Monroe and Kevin Loughery were the scorers again, while Wes Unseld, second in the league in rebounds, and Gus Johnson cleaned up missed shots. Those rebounds helped give the Bullets more field goals than any other NBA team that year.

48 wins was enough to give the Atlanta Hawks the NBA's West Division title ( yes, the West, even with Milwaukee and Detroit in the East ). While the NBA clearly again needed help with its sense of geography, the Hawks flew strong behind Rich Guerin's solid starting five, led again by scorer Lou Hudson. A early season trade with Detroit, now coached by Butch Van Breda Kolff from last year's Laker fiasco, netted star center Walt Bellamy. The Hawks again eyed a shot at the NBA Finals with some of the same faces from their St. Louis days. They liked the West just fine.

Right behind at 46 wins were the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers starting five had to account early for an injury to Wilt Chamberlain, who played just twelve regular-season games. Tough Happy Hairston, another Detroit castoff, joined 35-year-old Elgin Baylor as 20-point scorers, even as Elgin clearly limped much of the year. Diehard Jerry West picked up all the slack to lead the NBA in scoring at 31.2 per game. He also added 7.5 assists and solid defense in the backcourt yet again. West's hit half of his 1673 shot attempts, while also canning an NBA-best 647 free throws at an 82% clip. Again, what this guy might have done with a three-line boggles the imagination. 40 points per game?

Only one other team, the declining Philadelphia 76ers of Billy Cunningham and Hal Greer won half their games this year, for a total of just six out of the NBA's fourteen. This was down two teams from a year ago and represented a balancing out of talent as the have-not expansion teams began to acquire talent. The best example of this was Alcindor.

The Cincinnati Royals and Boston Celtics both fell far this year. Cincinnati, for whatever reason, hired former hated rival Bob Cousy as coach, and he jettisoned Ohio's most famous player, Jerry Lucas, to San Francisco. He attempted to also trade Oscar Robertson, couldn't, then placed Robertson, the NBA's all-time passing guard, at shooting guard. The Royals future hopes now appeared limited at best.

Boston, the all-time winners from the last two years, won fewer games than the Seattle SuperSonics this year. The Sonics had Bob Rule and All-Pro Lenny Wilkens at least. Boston had only superstar John Havlicek.

Four teams from each division made the playoffs. Once again for whatever reason, the NBA had the division winners face the third-best teams, and the second-seeds faced the easier fourth-best teams in Round One.

So New York met third-place Baltimore in a rematch of last year and got a seven-game war. Game One was a double-overtime win for the Knicks, who won at home in Game Seven to win the series. The Bullets lost scoring against the high-defense Knicks when guard Loughery was benched. Milwaukee swept Philly in four games despite Billy Cunningham's best efforts. Poor Darrall Imhoff, who had watched Wilt score 100 in 1962, was no match for Alcindor at center.

Atlanta's strong five, with player/coach Guerin coming off the bench effectively at age 37, beat the Chicago Bulls, led by ex-76er Chet Walker four games to one.

The Lakers, with Chamberlain limping back into play, survived a seven-game series with the second-year Phoenix Suns. The Suns had a strong frontline led by Paul Silas and Connie Hawkins, the former ABA superstar. It has been quite a journey for Hawkins, who was an NBA all-star after suing his way into the league at age 27. The Suns had good guards as well in Tom Van Arsdale and Gail Goodrich, but had no answer for Chamberlain in Game Seven.

With the top seeds in both divisions advancing, New York then met Milwaukee while Atlanta met Los Angeles. The Lakers were done first, sweeping the Hawks 4-0 to end their big season. Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain were again on a mission, but the Lakers bench may have been the deciding factor in this series.

New York would need five games to send the Bucks home, winning four games to one. The Knicks simply guarded Alcindor's teammates, while Willis Reed made the young superstar work.

The NBA now had a classic New York - Los Angeles series for a championship, with all the required media coverage. League leaders were delighted. The series lived up to it bluster also. New York had the first games at home at Madison Square Garden. But the Lakers got the split they wanted, winning Game Two 105-103. Now the series went to sunny LA, where two huge overtime games took place. New York won Game Three to re-even the series, two games each. Jerry West's 60-foot heave to send the game in overtime was a two-pointer then. Today, it wins the game as a three.

New York had the edge in Game Five until Reed collapsed with a torn leg muscle. Chamberlain now had a huge opening. But Knicks coach Red Holzman devised a strategy and confused the Lakers with a centerless lineup, rotating different defenders on Chamberlain. Somehow, it worked. The Knicks hung on to win Game Five. With Reed out, Wilt slammed home 45 in Game Six back in LA to knot the series again 3-3. Game Seven would be in New York, but the Knicks looked like long shots.

With ABC's Chris Schenkel and Jack Twyman leading speculators about what the Knicks could possibly do, Reed emerged from the locker room and joined his team on the floor, shocking thousands and surprising the Lakers. Energized by their big man's effort, the Knicks roared to an early lead and held on long after Reed limped to the bench. Chamberlain had every opportunity, but somehow watched it slip away for the third straight year. The Knicks achieved sports immortality with the win, which gave them their first ever NBA title.

Reed was lionized for his effort, but it was more Dave DeBusschere's stellar inside play and Walt Frazier's brilliant all-around game that got it done for New York. Chamberlain and West were runners-up again, their outstanding stats and performances again good only for second place, while New York had staked their claim as the Next Big Team.

Final standings

Eastern Division

Team W L PCT. GB
New York Knicks C 60 22 .732 -
Milwaukee Bucks 56 26 .683 4
Baltimore Bullets 50 32 .610 10
Philadelphia 76ers 42 40 .512 18
Cincinnati Royals 36 46 .439 24
Boston Celtics 34 48 .415 26
Detroit Pistons 31 51 .378 29

Western Division

Team W L PCT. GB
Atlanta Hawks 48 34 .585 -
Los Angeles Lakers 46 36 .561 2
Phoenix Suns 39 43 .476 9
Chicago Bulls 39 43 .476 9
Seattle SuperSonics 36 46 .439 12
San Francisco Warriors 30 52 .366 18
San Diego Rockets 27 55 .329 21

C - NBA Champions

Statistics leaders

Category Player Team Stat
Points per game Jerry West Los Angeles Lakers 31.2
Rebounds per game Elvin Hayes San Diego Rockets 16.9
Assists per game Lenny Wilkens Seattle SuperSonics 9.1
FG% Johnny Green Cincinnati Royals .559
FT% Flynn Robinson Milwaukee Bucks .898

NBA awards

  • Most Valuable Player: Willis Reed, New York Knicks
  • Rookie of the Year: Lew Alcindor, Milwaukee Bucks
  • Coach of the Year: Red Holzman, New York Knicks
  • All-NBA First Team:
    • Billy Cunningham, Philadelphia 76ers
    • Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Walt Frazier, New York Knicks
    • Connie Hawkins, Phoenix Suns
    • Willis Reed, New York Knicks
  • All-NBA Rookie Team:
    • Dick Garrett, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Mike Davis, Baltimore Bullets
    • Jo Jo White, Boston Celtics
    • Lew Alcindor, Milwaukee Bucks
    • Bob Dandridge, Milwaukee Bucks
  • NBA All-Defensive Teams:
  • First Team:
    • Dave DeBusschere, New York Knicks
    • Gus Johnson, Baltimore Bullets
    • Willis Reed, New York Knicks
    • Walt Frazier, New York Knicks
    • Jerry West, Los Angeles Lakers
  • Second Team:
    • John Havlicek, Boston Celtics
    • Bill Bridges, Atlanta Hawks
    • Lew Alcindor, Milwaukee Bucks
    • Joe Caldwell, Atlanta Hawks
    • Jerry Sloan, Chicago Bulls

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