When: Game 7, 1969 Finals, The Los Angeles Forum
It still remains one of the biggest rivalries in the history of the game. Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell battled like two skyscrapers in the NBA throughout the 1960’s. Chamberlain had resembled size, strength, and power that looked to take the League by storm, once averaging 55 rebounds a game for a single season and who remains to this day the only player to score 100 points in an NBA Game.
Only there was Russell to match Chamberlain’s stats with heart, determination, and a strict diet of defense and emphasis on team play. And above all there was winning. 162 times they faced each other, with Russell winning 88 of those 162 duels with Chamberlain.
What happened: Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals would turn out to be the last time Chamberlain and Russell would face each other, with Russell retiring for good after the Finals. The Celtics battled back after facing a must win Game 6 in Boston to force a Game 7 in the Forum. Lakers Owner, Jack Kent Cook, was so prepared for Los Angeles to win that he ordered workers to put balloons in the rafters to fall after the Lakers won Game 7. Russell was angered by the move and told Jerry West during warmups, “Those [expletive] balloons are staying up there”. The Celtics got out to a 59-56 halftime lead early. Though hampered with a hamstring injury, Laker Guard Jerry West poured in a Game high 42 points to knock the lead down to 7 with five minutes to play in the Fourth. Then, with five minutes to go, Chamberlain landed awkwardly after grabbing a rebound and injured his knee.
Lakers Coach, Butch Van Bredekoffe decided to keep Chamberlalin out for the rest of the game despite Chamberlain saying he was ok to go back in.
Boston still had a 103-102 lead with 1:33 left in the game when reserve guard Keith Erickson knocked the ball away from John Havlicek. The ball went right to future NBA Coach Don Nelson, who put up a desperation 18 foot shot from the free throw line to beat the 24 second clock; the ball hit the back rim, bounced high in the air and fell through the hoop to give Boston a 105-102 lead. The Lakers committed a few costly turnovers in the last moments and trailed 108-104 before making a meaningless last second shot made the final score 108-106.
Despite only putting up 8 points in his final NBA game, Russell cemented his legacy as one of the greatest individual, and team players in the history of the League, winning his 11th title. While in the process getting the best of Wilt Chamberlain for the final time. Chamberlain would go on to win his final Championship in 1972 before retiring in before retiring in 1973.