This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 U.S. Men’s Olympic Basketball team. Led by Jerry Shipp and Bill Bradley, the U.S. went undefeated (9-0) and won the gold medal, beating its opponents by an average of 30 points per game.
But what if professional basketball players had been allowed to play in the 1964 Summer Olympics? What might the U.S. roster have looked like? I’m going to go back in time and select a 1964 “Dream Team” using two rules:
- The roster will consist of 12 players and one head coach.
- I will only consider each player’s accomplishments through the 1962-63 season, as it would have been necessary to have the roster in place before the end of the 1963-64 season.
As a collegian at the University of Cincinnati, Robertson was a three-time All-America selection and led the Bearcats to consecutive Final Four appearances in 1959 and 1960. He was also co-captain (with Jerry West) of the gold-medal-winning 1960 U.S. team.
After being selected by the Cincinnati Royals as a territorial pick in the 1960 NBA draft, Robertson proceeded to average a triple double (29.8/11.0/10.2) his first three seasons in the league.
Robertson also won the 1960-61 NBA Rookie of the Year award, was named MVP of the 1961 NBA All-Star Game, and was a three-time All-NBA First Team selection.
Like Robertson, Jerry West was a three-time All-America selection and was co-captain of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team. West was also named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player in 1959, when he led West Virginia to its first — and thus far only — appearance in the national championship game.
After struggling as a rookie in 1960-61 — West averaged 17.6 points per game while shooting .419 from the field and .666 from the line — he found his groove his second season, posting a slash line* of 30.8/7.9/5.4 and earning the first of what would be six consecutive All-NBA First Team selections.
* Points, rebounds, and assists per game.
West was a combo guard — he could seamlessly switch between point guard and shooting guard — so his selection will also allow some more flexibility when it comes time to select the reserves.
Elgin Baylor is an easy choice at small forward. Through his first five years in the NBA, Baylor averaged 32.0 points and 16.7 rebounds per game and was a five-time All-NBA First Team selection.
Unfortunately, Baylor’s production noticeably slipped after that, as knee injuries and age started to take their toll. But that doesn’t matter for our purposes, as at the time the selections would have been made Baylor was one of the five best players in the NBA.
Another easy selection: Bob Pettit.
Following the 1962-63 season, Pettit was named All-NBA First Team for the ninth straight time, a streak that would reach 10 following the 1963-64 season.
Petit was a machine, cranking out 10 consecutive seasons of 10 or more win shares, tying him for the sixth-longest streak in NBA history.
Petit was named NBA MVP following the 1955-56 and 1958-59 seasons, and in 1958 he led the St. Louis Hawks to the only championship in franchise history. It should also be noted that Petit’s Hawks were the only squad to defeat one of Bill Russell teams in the NBA Finals.
There are two indisputable facts:
- Chamberlain had the stats.
- Russell had the rings.
Through the 1962-63 season, Chamberlain had ridiculous numbers, with career averages of 42.9 points and 26.0 rebounds per game. He had also been named All-NBA First Team in three of his first four seasons, and he won the Rookie of the Year award as well as the MVP award following the 1965-60 season.
Russell arrived in the NBA in 1956-57, and in his first seven seasons he collected six of his 11 career titles. He had also won four MVP awards, including three in a row from 1960-61 to 1962-63.
So you have a strange thing going on here: Chamberlain is posting video game numbers and winning All-NBA First Team honors, while Russell is taking home the MVP award and adding to his ring collection.
This is obviously a very tough choice. But since I’m trying to put together the best team possible, I’m inclined to go with perhaps the best team player in NBA history, and that would be Bill Russell.
Although Bob Cousy retired following the 1962-63 season, I think he would have elected to play on this team. Cousy was named to the All-NBA team every season from 1951-52 to 1962-63, the first 10 of those being First Team selections.
Cousy led the NBA in both assists and assists per game eight times, records that stood until John Stockton broke both of them in 1995-96.
His major weakness as a player was his inefficient shooting from the floor. Among players with at least 2,000 field goals made, Cousy’s career field goal percentage of .375 is the 15th lowest in NBA history.
Cousy was able to offset that to a degree with his free throw shooting, as he finished in the top ten in the NBA in free throw attempts six times and had a career free throw percentage of .803.
Hal Greer made his NBA debut in 1957-58, and in 1961 he earned the first of what would be 11 consecutive All-Star selections. Greer was also named All-NBA Second Team in 1962-63, starting a streak of seven consecutive All-NBA Second Team nods.
From 1960-61 to 1962-63, Greer led the NBA in games played twice and posted a slash line of 20.6/6.2/3.9.
Thanks to shooting percentages of .454 from the field and .810 from the line — very good for that time — Greer’s true shooting percentage over that three-season span was .508, the 10th highest in the NBA (minimum 2,500 points).
By the way, choosing Greer over Sam Jones was the toughest selection I had to make. I just felt that Greer had a better resume at that time, as Jones had only been named to one All-Star team and had not yet earned an All-NBA selection.
Jack Twyman was a 6-6 small forward who could also play shooting guard, so he lends some versatility to the roster.
After eight seasons, Twyman had been named to six All-Star teams and had two All-NBA Second Team selections to his credit (1959-60 and 1961-62).
Twyman’s career averages at the time were 21.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, with field goal and free throw percentages of .450 and .771, respectively. And even though that field goal percentage may not be impressive today, at the time it was the eighth-highest in NBA history (minimum 2,000 field goals made).
Bailey Howell was a two-time All-America selection at the Mississippi State University before joining the NBA in 1959-60 with the Detroit Pistons.
Howell earned his first All-Star berth the next season, and by the end of the 1962-63 season he was a three-time All-Star selection and a one-time All-NBA Second Team selection.
He was a double-double threat on a nightly basis — he averaged 21.0 points and 12.3 rebounds per game through his first four seasons — and he was an efficient scorer, having landed in the top 10 in field goal percentage, free throws made, and free throws attempted three times in that span.
Tom Heinsohn was named to the All-Star team and won the Rookie of the Year award in 1956-57, but after that he didn’t receive any more major honors until the 1960-61 season.
From 1960-61 to 1962-63, though, Heinsohn made three consecutive All-Star teams and was named All-NBA Second Team three straight times.*
Those streaks eventually reached five and four seasons, respectively
Heinsohn had also won six championships as a member of the Boston Celtics, and he would be a member of two more championship teams in 1964 and 1965.
Wilt Chamberlain, of course.
Walt Bellamy — like Robertson and West — was a member of the 1960 U.S. team that won the gold medal in Rome.
Bellamy was a beast his first two years in the NBA, averaging 29.7 points and 17.7 rebounds per game while finishing first and then second in the league in field goal percentage. He won the Rookie of the Year award in 1961-62, and he would have been named to one of the All-NBA teams had it not been for two guys named Chamberlain and Russell.
I should also note that Bellamy had an unusual career in that his first four seasons were easily his best in the NBA. This is something I’ve written about in the past.
It has to be Red Auerbach — there’s really no room for debate. Auerbach’s Celtics had won six of the past seven championships, with the only miss coming in 1958 when the Celtics lost the NBA Finals in six games to the St. Louis Hawks.
The 1964 Dream Team
The table below provides a summary of my roster selections for the 1964 Dream Team. All statistics are through the 1962-63 NBA season.
|Head Coach — Red Auerbach|