NBA 1956-‘57: 8 teams
The season marked the beginning of what would become sports' greatest dynasty, the reign of the Boston Celtics that would produce 11 championships in 13 years.
The Celtics had employed the group of Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman and Ed Macauley to score points in bunches for some time, but without rebounding and defense, they hadn't progressed very far in the playoffs. But Red Auerbach traded Macauley and Cliff Hagan to St. Louis for the draft rights to center Bill Russell of San Francisco, and Boston used its own pick to grab high-scoring 6-foot-7 forward Tom Heinsohn of Holy Cross.
With Russell and Heinsohn joining Cousy, Sharman, muscleman Jim Loscutoff and sixth man Frank Ramsey, the Celtics had assembled a team that would be the scourge of the league for years to come. Sharman (21.1 ppg) and Cousy (20.6) still piled up the points, but with Russell anchoring a suddenly-tough Celtics defense, Boston cruised to a league-best 44-28 record, winning the Eastern Division by a comfortable six games.
The Celtics' first title didn't come easily, though: Boston went to seven games in The Finals against the St. Louis Hawks, who featured scorers Bob Pettit, Ed Macauley and rookie Cliff Hagan. In Game 7, Heinsohn scored 37 points and pulled down 23 rebounds, and Russell scored 19 while grabbing a whopping 32 rebounds in a 125-123 double-overtime win.
Game 7 of the 1957 NBA Finals was the type of game that could advance a sport by its sheer excitement. It was a game that would be talked about for years: how rookies Russell (19 points, 32 rebounds) and Heinsohn (37 points, 23 rebounds) stepped up and provided the win that would set the Celtics dynasty in motion.
"The first one (championship) is always the hardest, and it's also the most satisfying", reflected Auerbach. "Everywhere I went that following summer, I could tell myself, 'I'm the coach of the world champions'."
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