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Retroactive Finals MVP Awards
Choosing Finals MVPs in years where the award was not bestowed.
The NBA Finals MVP Award was first handed out in 1969. Jerry West took home the trophy that year, becoming the first (and still only) player on a losing team to win the award. I thought it would be fun to go back in time and choose retroactive Finals MVPs in years where the award was not bestowed. All comments will be made Zander Hollander-style.
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1947: Joe Fulks, Philadelphia Warriors
Averaged 26.2 PPG in five games … Scored 131 total points, 59 more than any other player (Chick Halbert, 72) … Shot 74.1% from the free throw line on 58 attempts … Warriors defeated the Chicago Stags in five games to become the NBA’s first official champion (although the league was called the Basketball Association of America at the time).
1948: Joe Fulks, Philadelphia Warriors (2)
Averaged series-high 23.5 PPG in six games … Game’s leading scorer in five of the six contests … Shot 87.1% from the free throw line, leading all players on both teams in free throws made (61) and attempted (70) … Warriors fell short in their bid to repeat, bowing to the Baltimore Bullets in six games.
1949: George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers
Averaged 27.5 PPG in six games, almost double that of the next-closest player (Jack Nichols, 14.2 PPG) … Made 57 of his 69 free throw attempts (82.6%) … Scored 42 points in a Game 1 win, the first 40-point game in Finals history … Beat the Washington Capitols in six games to claim the franchise’s first NBA championship.
1950: George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers (2)
Averaged series-best 32.2 PPG in six games … Scored at least 28 points in each game … Scored 40 points on 13-20 shooting from the field in a series-clinching win in Game 6 … Lakers won their second straight title, defeating the Syracuse Nationals in six games.
1951: Arnie Risen, Rochester Royals
Averaged series highs of 21.7 PPG and 14.3 RPG in seven games … Recorded at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in five games … Led all players on both teams in points and rebounds in Games 1, 3, 4, and 7 … Royals beat the New York Knicks in seven games, earning the first (and still only) title in franchise history.
1952: George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers (3)
Averaged series highs of 21.7 PPG and 17.4 RPG in seven games … Game’s leading rebounder in all seven contests … Made more free throws (54) than any other player even attempted in the series … Shot a team-high 78.3% from the free throw line … Lakers knocked off the New York Knicks in seven games.
1953: George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers (4)
Averaged a series-best 20.8 PPG in five games … Led all players in scoring in each of the first four games … Made 44 free throws, four more than any other player even attempted … Lakers won their fourth title in five seasons, besting the New York Knicks in five games.
1954: George Mikan, Minneapolis Lakers (5)
Averaged 18.1 PPG and 11.3 RPG in seven games, both figures series highs … Shot 44.1% from the field, tying Vern Mikkelsen for the team lead … Produced 30 points and 15 rebounds in Game 3 and 30 points and 18 rebounds in Game 6 … Lakers took home their fifth title in six seasons, defeating the Syracuse Nationals in seven games.
1955: Dolph Schayes, Syracuse Nationals
Averaged series highs of 19.0 PPG and 11.9 RPG in seven games … Led team in field goal percentage (39.2%) and was second in free throw percentage (83.8%) … Made nine more free throws (57) than any other player even attempted … Nationals won their first NBA title, conquering the Fort Wayne Pistons in seven games.
1956: Paul Arizin, Philadelphia Warriors
Averaged series-high 27.6 PPG and 8.0 RPG in five games … Scored between 26 and 30 points in each game … Connected on 42.6% of his shots from the floor and 87.5% of his free throws … Warriors won their second NBA championship, knocking off the Fort Wayne Pistons in five games.
1957: Tom Heinsohn, Boston Celtics
Rookie averaged 24.0 PPG and 12.6 RPG in seven games … Shot 40.4% from the field and 70.8% from the free throw line … Came up huge in a double-overtime classic in Game 7, scoring a team-high 37 points and grabbing a game-high 23 rebounds … Celtics won their first NBA title, beating the St. Louis Hawks in seven games.
1958: Bob Pettit, St. Louis Hawks
Averaged a series-high 29.3 PPG and team-high 17.0 RPG in six games … Shot 42.3% from the field and 75.9% from the free throw line … Scored 50 points in Game 6, becoming the first player in Finals history to record a 50-point game … Hawks beat the Boston Celtics in six games, the first (and still only) championship in franchise history.
1959: Bob Cousy, Boston Celtics
Averaged 16.8 PPG, series-high 12.8 APG, and 8.0 RPG in four games … Recorded a 21-point, 15-assist, 11-rebound triple-double in Game 2 … Dished out 19 assists in Game 3 … Celtics picked up their second NBA title, sweeping the Minneapolis Lakers in four games.
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1960: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics
Averaged 16.7 PPG and series-best 24.9 RPG in seven games … Recorded a double-double in each game … Set a Finals record with 40 rebounds in Game 2, a mark that still stands … Celtics avenged their Finals loss in 1958, beating the St. Louis Hawks 122-103 in Game 7.
1961: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (2)
Averaged 17.6 PPG, series-high 28.8 RPG, and 4.4 APG in five games … Snagged at least 23 boards in each game … Scored 30 points and grabbed 38 rebounds in Game 5 … Celtics won their third straight title, dispatching of the St. Louis Hawks in five games.
1962: Elgin Baylor, Los Angeles Lakers
Averaged series-high 40.6 PPG and team-high 17.9 RPG in seven games … Shot 43.0% from the field and 82.8% from the free throw line … Erupted for a Finals-record 61 points in Game 5, a mark that still stands … Scored at least 34 points in all seven contests … Lakers lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games.
1963: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (3)
Averaged 20.0 PPG, series-best 26.0 RPG, and 5.3 APG in six games … Played the full 48 minutes in all but one game (Game 1, when he played “only” 47 minutes) … Celtics claimed their fifth consecutive Finals win, besting the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.
1964: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (4)
Averaged 11.2 PPG, series-high 25.2 RPG, and 5.0 APG in five games … Hauled in at least 19 rebounds in each game … Held Wilt Chamberlain to 29.2 PPG, 7.7 PPG below his season average … Celtics won the series in five games over the San Francisco Warriors, their sixth straight title.
1965: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (5)
Averaged 17.8 PPG, series-best 25.0 RPG, and 5.8 APG in five games … Shot a robust 70.2% from the field field, tops among all players … Had a triple-double in Game 2, recording 23 points, 25 rebounds, and 10 assists … Celtics won the series 4-1 over the Los Angeles Lakers, their seventh consecutive NBA championship.
1966: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics (6)
Averaged team-high 23.6 PPG and series-high 24.3 RPG in seven games … Made 53.8% of his shots from the floor and 74.0% from the foul line … Grabbed at least 18 rebounds in all seven games … Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games, winning their eighth title in a row.
1967: Rick Barry, San Francisco Warriors
Averaged series-best 40.8 PPG in six games, at the time the highest scoring average in an NBA Finals (he now ranks second) … Poured in 55 points in Game 2, still the second-highest scoring game in Finals history … Scored at least 30 points in each game and also had three 10-rebound games … Warriors fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in six games.
1968: John Havlicek, Boston Celtics
Averaged 27.3 PPG, 8.7 RPG, and 6.7 APG in six games … Led the Celtics in points and assists and finished second in rebounds … Scored 40 points in Game 6, becoming the third player in NBA history to record a 40-point game in a Finals-clinching win … Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in six games to take home their 10th championship in 12 seasons.
Summarizing the 22 hypothetical awards above:
6 — Bill Russell
5 — George Mikan
2 — Joe Fulks
1 — Arnie Risen
1 — Dolph Schayes
1 — Paul Arizin
1 — Tom Heinsohn
1 — Bob Pettit
1 — Bob Cousy
1 — Elgin Baylor
1 — Rick Barry
1 — John Havlicek
Adding the totals above to existing figures we get:
6 — Bill Russell
6 — Michael Jordan
5 — George Mikan
3 — Magic Johnson
3 — Shaquille O’Neal
3 — Tim Duncan
Even though Bill Russell never actually won the award named in his honor (it’s officially called the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award), it seems appropriate the trophy bears his name.