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The Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell debate will live on forever. Nobody put up statistics like Chamberlain, but Russell ran out of fingers to house his championship rings.

Chamberlain never had the supporting cast Russell did, and that may account for why Russell has 11 titles to Chamberlain’s two. It also may explain Wilt’s fantasy-like numbers. Many have pointed out that the reason for Chamberlain’s numbers is because he needed to be the main man on his team. Others have labeled him a selfish player and a stat-padder. After the Celtics eliminated the favored 76ers in the 1966 postseason, Russell gave his thoughts.

Wilt Chamberlain guided the Philadelphia 76ers to the best record in the NBA during the 1965-66 season

This was the year the Philadelphia 76ers were supposed to end the Boston Celtics’ run of seven straight championships. It was Chamberlain’s first full season with the team after the San Francisco Warriors traded him to Philly during the 1964-65 season.

The Sixers finished with the best record in the NBA. They went 55-25, one game better than the Boston Celtics. Chamberlain was named MVP of the league after putting up league-highs in points (33.5) and rebounds (24.6). He also led the NBA in minutes (47.3) and field-goal percentage (54.0).

As expected, Chamberlain’s 76ers squared off against Russell’s Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals. The Celtics made a statement in the series opener, cruising to a 115-96 win in Philadelphia. Chamberlain had 25 points and 32 rebounds, while Russell had 13 points and 18 boards. Sam Jones’ 29 points led Boston.

If the 19-point drubbing wasn’t bad enough, the Celtics came back with a 21-point victory in Game 2. After the Sixers edged the Celtics in Game 3, Boston won the next two to clinch the series. The Celtics went on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers for their eighth straight championship.

Philly’s loss to Boston brought out several questions, mostly regarding Chamberlain. After the Game 4 loss, Chamberlain didn’t attend practice. According to Robert Cherry’s biography on Chamberlain, Wilt: Larger than Life, Sixers coach Dolph Schayes excused him from practice. Whether that’s true or not, Chamberlain’s absence irked some teammates.

“Sure, he should have been here,” said an unnamed teammate, per Cherry. “Isn’t Wilt just like you and me? Today was the same as it’s been all year long. Wilt misses a practice, and it sort of aggravates the guys.”

Russell weighed in on Chamberlain after the series finale


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In the Game 5 loss, Chamberlain put up 46 points and 34 rebounds, but he also went 8-for-25 from the free-throw line. Joe McGinniss, the beat writer for The Evening Bulletin, confronted Chamberlain about the missed practice.

“Wilt, you missed 17 foul shots tonight,” he asked Chamberlain at the postgame press conference, per Cherry. “Don’t you think you could have used some practice on the line Monday?”

“All the (expletive) practice in the world ain’t gonna help me at the line,” Chamberlain fired back.

Meanwhile, reporters asked Russell about the ease with which Boston won. Rusell believed the Sixers took the Celtics lightly. Then he spoke about Chamberlain.

“Then, and this may sound trite, but it’s very true,” Russell said. “I think this is a team game. I’m not saying anything bad about Wilt Chamberlain. He had a great season, and I voted for him for Most Valuable Player. But anytime you take this game out of the team realm, you foul up your team.

“As for winning this game tonight, we really wanted to wind it up here. We’ve heard for so many years that we just managed to win because that seventh game was in Boston. I mean, we’ve been getting letters about it. So, we wanted to win it here.”