The 1961-62 NBA season featured some of the most famous and untouchable NBA records of all time. Wilt scored 100 points in a single game and averaged 50 points per game for the season, adding nearly 26 rebounds per contest as well. It is also the only year that Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double (though he came close in several other seasons). Four players averaged over 18 rebounds per game, including rookie Walt Bellamy. The average combined score was well over 230 points and teams took on average 25 more field goal attempts per game.
The main reason for the inflated numbers is because the average league pace that season was 126.2 possessions per 48 minutes. For perspective, in 2013-14, the average league pace was 93.9 possessions per game. Basically, teams had 35% more possessions in 1961-62 than they do today. That is not to say that the records set during that season aren’t impressive because they certainly were. Perhaps the most impressive and untouchable record in any sport is Wilt Chamberlain’s 48.5 minute per game average during the 1961-62 season. But the NBA record books are filled with an overwhelming amount of records that were set during this season and a large reason for that was because of the break-neck pace.
Pace makes a dramatic difference when comparing basic statistics like points per game and other per game averages. While there are countless other factors involved when comparing eras – playing conditions, league rules, travel conditions, training conditions, etc. – we can at least ask what the history of the league would look like if every game was played at 126.2 possessions, rather than 48 minutes. Let’s take a trip down the wormhole and revisit the last 30 years of the NBA in an alternate reality where every game is played at exactly 126.2 possessions per game.
Note: All other data stayed the same. 3-point shots are still worth 3, even though there was no 3-point line in 1962. Players played the same minutes and shot the same percentage. Only their numbers are prorated for 126.2 possessions.
Larry Bird averaged a remarkable 35.6 PPG, 13 RPG and 8.2 APG en route to his second of 3 straight MVP awards.
The season featured a few notable rookies, including Michael Jordan, who finished the season averaging 35.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG and 7.5 APG.
Bernard King won the scoring title with an average of 41.7 PPG.
Larry Bird and the Celtics outscored opponents by 11.6 points per game. They were even more dominant at home finishing an astounding 40-1, outscoring opponents by 16.4 points per game at The Garden.
In Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs, Michael Jordan set an NBA playoff record by scoring 84 points on 29/54 shooting.
Jordan led the league scoring 48.9 PPG. He scored 40 or more in 40 games and scored at least 50 points on 13 different occasions.
The Los Angeles Lakers averaged 146 points per game.
Magic upped his scoring average to 29.7 PPG. He also dished out 15.2 APG and was rewarded with the regular season MVP award.
Bird submitted his greatest all-around statistical season averaging 36 points, 11.8 boards and 9.7 assists per game, just shy of a triple double.
In game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Hakeem Olajuwon scored 65 points, grabbed 33 redounds and added 8 blocks in a 171-167 loss to the Seattle Supersonics.
Michael Jordan finished the season with an average of 46.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game to go along with his MVP award and defensive player of the year award.
John Stockton also led the league in assists per game for the first time, averaging 17.2 assists per game.
Magic Johnson had a career high 30 assists in a game against the Denver Nuggets.
Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins put on an offensive duel in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Wilkins led the Hawks with 69 points. Bird answered with 50 points of his own, including 29 in the 4th quarter, to lead the Celtics to a 172-169 victory.
The season was highlighted by Magic Johnson, who averaged a triple double with 28.4 ppg, 10 rpg, and 16.1 apg. (He would have also averaged triple doubles in 1980-81, 1981-82, and 1982-83.)
John Stockton shattered Magic Johnson’s record with 38 assists in a single game against the New York Knicks.
In his 3rd season as assist leader, John Stockton set a record by averaging 19 assists per game.
The Bulls won their first NBA championship behind Jordan’s remarkable 45.9 point, 16.8 assist, 9.7 rebound average in the finals. He added 4 steals and 2 blocks per game as well.
Jordan erupted for 47 points in the first half of game 1 of the NBA finals.
On December 17th, the Cleveland Cavaliers crushed the Miami Heat 183-99, a margin of victory of 84 points.
Dennis Rodman averaged 25.8 rpg.
The Knicks managed to hold Jordan to 4-of-26 shooting in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Jordan responded in Game 4 with 78 points.
Jordan averaged a record 57.7 ppg in the NBA finals, to go along with 12 rpg and 8.9 apg.
On February 17th, David Robinson tallied a quadruple double scoring 47 points, 14 rebounds, 14 assists, and 14 blocked shots against the Detroit Pistons.
Robinson also scored 86 points in the final regular season game.
Barkley scored 67 pts on just 36 attempts in game 3 of the first round of the playoffs.
In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Reggie Miller scored 54 points including 35 in the 4th quarter to help defeat the New York Knicks.
Olajuwon averaged 46.2 pts, 16.2 rebs, and 7.8 assists against regular season MVP David Robinson and the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.
6’1” Denver Nuggets point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf scored 70 points in a game against the Jazz.
Kevin Johnson dishes out 35 assists in a game against the Spurs.
Allen Iverson set a rookie record by scoring 50 points in 5 straight games.
The Chicago Bulls set an NBA record with 72 wins and an average margin of victory of 16.9 points per game.
The Bulls swept the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals by an average margin of 24.7 ppg.
On February 27th, the Pacers outscored the Trailblazers 169-81, the first time an NBA team has ever scored more than twice the amount of points as their opponent. Ten Pacer players scored in double figures.
The Bulls win game 3 of the 1997-98 finals by 58 points, the largest margin of victory ever in an NBA finals.
Tim Duncan won finals MVP after averaging 40.4 points and 20.6 rebounds per game.
Kendall Gill set an NBA record with 15 steals in a game against the Miami Heat.
The Lakers rallied back from a 22 points deficit late in the 3rd quarter to win game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Trailblazers.
Shaquille O’Neal won the regular season MVP averaging 40.2 ppg, 18.4 rebounds and 4.1 blocks per game.
Shaq also won finals MVP averaging 52.4 ppg and 23 rpg against the Pacers.
On March 6th, O’Neal scored 81 points against the Clippers, and added 30 rebounds.
Kobe Bryant and O’Neal combined to average 80.1 points per game for the regular season.
In Game 1 of the NBA finals, Iverson scored 67 points to give the Lakers their only loss of the playoffs.
O’Neal responded with a quadruple double in Game 2 of the NBA Finals scoring 38 points, 27 rebounds, 12 assists and 11 blocks.
Michael Jordan returned from retirement and scored 74 points in an early season game against the Charlotte Hornets.
The Lakers won a 3rd straight NBA Finals. Over the three championship seasons, O’Neal averaged a dominant 39 ppg and 16.8 rpg.
Bryant carried more of the load for the Lakers: averaging 40.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 8 assists per game.
Game 3 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals went into double OT and finished with a Dallas Mavericks victory over the Sacramento Kings with a final score of 184-179.
Tim Duncan notched a quadruple double in the clinching game of the 2003 NBA finals scoring 29 points, 27 rebounds, 14 assists and 11 blocks.
Kevin Garnett won the MVP behind 34.3 points, 19.7 rebs, and 7.1 assists per game.
On March 10th, Tracy McGrady scored 82 points in a narrow win against the Washington Wizards.
At the age of 20 and in his second year in the league, LeBron James averaged a triple double – 38.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, and 10.1 apg.
On March 10th, Lebron James scores 83 points in a loss to the Toronto Raptors — he added 15 rebounds and 8 assists.
In a pivotal Game 5 of the NBA finals, Robert Horry scored all 34 of his points in the final 17 minutes to help give the Spurs a 1-point win.
Bryant averaged 49.2 ppg, the 2nd highest season scoring average in NBA history — he added 10 apg to his season average as well.
Iverson had his highest career average as well with 44.9 ppg.
On December 20th, Bryant scored 79 points in just three quarters against the Dallas Mavericks.
On January 22nd, Bryant set an NBA record scoring 107 points in a single game.
Dwyane Wade scored 62 points in Game 5 of the NBA finals, shooting 32/38 from the FT line to lead the Heat to a 1 point win.
On December 7th, the Suns and Nets played in the highest scoring game in NBA history. Phoenix won the game 196-191 in double OT.
In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, James scored 62 points, including 37 of the last 39 points, and added 12 rebounds and 9 assists to help lead the Cavs to an OT win.
LeBron averaged a triple double for the 2nd time in his career, 42 ppg, 11.1 rpg and 10.1 apg.
LeBron and Paul Pierce had a scoring duel in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. James poured in 64, but the Cavs fall to the Celtics as Pierce scores 58.
The Celtics clinched the NBA title in Game 6 of the NBA finals by a margin of 52 points.
Lebron averaged a triple double for the 3rd time in his career.
On Feb. 2, Kobe Bryant scored 76 points at Madison Square Garden. Two days later, LeBron scored 72, while adding 15 rebounds and 13 assists.
James averaged 53.8 ppg, 11.2 apg and 11.7 rpg in the Eastern Conference Finals, but the Cavaliers fell to the Magic in 6 games.
Kobe won NBA finals MVP behind a 47.4 ppg average.
Andre Miller had a league high 74 points in a win against the Dallas Mavericks.
Lebron averaged a triple double for the third consecutive year, and the fourth time in his career.
In just his 3rd game of the season, Rajon Rondo set a career high with 31 assists. Three months later, he broke his own record with 32 assists.
On November 12th, Kevin Love grabbed 38 rebounds in a single game to go along with 38 points.
On March 23rd, Love scored 65 points in a 191-180 loss to the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 109 points.
On March 12th, Dwight Howard attempted an NBA record 51 free throws.
On January 24th, Carmelo Anthony scored 92 points against the Charlotte Bobcats in just 38 minutes.
Three months later LeBron scored 89 points against the Bobcats.
In the NBA finals, the Spurs averaged 153 points per game en route to an NBA championship.
Obviously this isn’t an accurate projection of what players from different eras would look like if they played in the 1961-62 season — there are too many variables involved. Some, like pace, are measurable. Most variables — like how would Michael Jordan perform in an NBA finals after a 6 hour bus ride — are not.
Hopefully, this experiment demonstrates the impact that pace has on per game averages and provides a lens to view some of the great statistical achievements of the last 30 seasons. And most importantly, it’s just fun to look at and imagine a league full of inflated numbers.