Welcome back to our second NBA Tuesday miniseries on the Daily McPlay, analyzing the Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards for both professional leagues in 1969. This is the year the NBA started awarding a Finals MVP nod, too, so that adds a new dynamic to our weekly analysis.
Remember to check out the first miniseries entry on this year for context, if you want; it always helps.
1969 NBA FINALS MVP: Jerry West, SG, Los Angeles (original, confirmed)
Somehow, the Boston Celtics won the NBA title again, winning Game 7 of the Finals on the floor of the Los Angeles Lakers by 2 points. The Celtics were outscored in the series, but they recovered from a 3-2 deficit to win the last two games in claiming yet another championship. However, Lakers shooting guard Jerry West was named the Finals MVP, after leading all players with 37.9 ppg and 7.4 apg.
It’s hard to argue with the selection: While Boston had six players score in the double figures (none of them named Bill Russell, by the way), the L.A. roster featured just four such players. West also scored 42 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, and made 12 assists in Game 7 as the Lakers fell just short of winning the championship against the Celtics and three 20-point scorers in the game. Award vote confirmed!
1969 ABA FINALS MVP: Warren Jabali, SG, Oakland (original, confirmed)
The Oakland Oaks topped the Indiana Pacers in 5 games to take the second ABA championship, with shooting guard Warren Jabali leading a balanced attack with 33.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg, and 4.0 apg. The scoring number was tops in the series, while the rebounding mark was tied for the best on the Oaks—and the assists mark was second for Oakland. That is a well-rounded performance for a dominant team.
While the Pacers had two players average double doubles, it’s hard to find anyone else worthy of the mantle here, as Indiana did only manage to win one game in the Finals. So, we confirm Jabali’s “Playoffs MVP Award” here, who was an age-22 rookie in the league who spurned the New York Knicks to play for the Oaks. We suspect you’ve never heard of him—unless you’ve been reading our stuff from the start.
1969 NBA DPOY: Bill Russell, C, Boston
Four players notched Defensive Win Shares marks over 6.0 during the regular season: Celtics center Russell (9.87 in his final season), Baltimore Bullets rookie center Wes Unseld (6.98), Boston SG John Havlicek (6.32), and San Francisco Warriors C Nate Thurmond (6.06). Normally, the two teammates would cancel each other out, but the gap between Russell and everyone else is so huge.
Boston actually finished fourth in the Eastern Division, claiming the final playoff berth there by 7 games over the Cincinnati Royals. It could be argued that without his defense, the Celtics do not make the postseason. Likewise, it can be argued that without Unseld, the Bullets do not win the Eastern Division by 2 games over the Philadelphia 76ers and 3 games over the Knicks.
Generally, though, Russell is going to win this award: He only averaged 19.3 rpg and 3.0 fpg, but he was still a dominant force, obviously. Boston was probably on cruise control in the regular season before turning up the intensity a notch of six in the postseason, but this is the right decision for this award. This is Russell’s eighth DPOY nod from us, but the first one since 1965 … and the last one, of course.
1969 ABA DPOY: Mel Daniels, C, Indiana
It was a mediocre year for defense in the colorful ABA, as only three players even topped 4 DWS: Minnesota Pipers C Trooper Washington (4.96), Pacers C Mel Daniels (4.36), and New Orleans Buccaneers C Red Robbins (4.24). Daniels won the award from us last year, and he may have the inside track this year for a few reasons.
The Pipers made the postseason with a 19-game cushion as they claimed the final playoff berth in the Eastern Division, while the Bucs had 13 games to spare in the Western Division, finishing second by 14 games behind Oakland. Meanwhile, the Pacers managed to win the Eastern Division by just 1 game over the Miami Floridians and 2 games over the Kentucky Colonels (and 8 over the Pipers).
Daniels’ defense had a lot more value than either Washington’s or Robbins’ efforts, so he wins this award from us again. He led the ABA with 16.5 rpg while committing 3.6 fpg, too, so he was definitely always on the mind of any player venturing toward the hole.