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The 1969 NBA Finals is remembered for a number of firsts and oddities most of all being Jerry West’s Finals MVP award. It was the first year that the Finals MVP award was being given. Peculiarly, despite being on the losing Lakers side, West was given the award, a feat that has never been achieved by any other player since. It was also the first time in NBA history that a team won a finals game 7 on the road. The award mattered little for West who was left inconsolable on court as Celtics fans and players swarmed around in celebration.
Buildup to the Moment
Suring the 1968 NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers had sensationally traded Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers, creating an air of optimism from the expected partnership with Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. The Celtics had been absolutely dominant in the 60s, winning all but one Championship between 1960 and 1968. Much of that success came at the expense of the Lakers with the two teams having met five times in that period. The Celtics had won on all those occasions including 1968.
This year, there was a real sense of vulnerability to the Celtics, with their key squad members including Bill Russell aging. Boston finished the regular season with a 48-34 record, fourth in the Eastern Division, but their experience helped them power through the playoffs on the way to the finals. The Lakers had put together a 55-27 record and had powered to the finals more convincingly hence they were the more fancied side.
Finally, the Lakers felt their anguish at the hands of their perennial rivals would come to an end. Jerry West, a fan favorite with Lakers fans, was inspirational in the first two games scoring 53 in game one and 41 in game two to help the Lakers leap to a 2-0 lead. In game 3 the Celtics burst into life, with John Havlicek scoring 34 points, to help Boston to a 111-105 win.
Game 4 was a fierce and hot-tempered affair, with the Celtics able to inch past the Lakers in the final seconds of the game to win 89-88. In game 5, West exploded again scoring 39 points as the Lakers won 117-104. West played through injury in game 6, but his 26 points were not enough as the Celtics again tied the series, with a 99-90 win. The teams would be returning to Los Angeles for game 7.
The Lakers looked certain to win the game, with team owner Kent Cooke ordering thousands of balloons to be suspended over the rafter of the Forum, in readiness for a celebration. After all no team had ever lost in a Finals game 7 at home. West played brilliantly but the Celtics were able to open up a 17 point lead early in the fourth quarter.
West then singlehandedly brought the Lakers back into the game with some clutch baskets to leave the scores at 103-100 with three minutes left. The Celtics were however able to hang on to win 108-106. West, who finished the game with 42 points, 12 assists and 13 rebounds, was named Finals MVP but his agony at losing yet another final to the Celtics was hard to handle.
As the Celtics celebrated in the locker room, Bill Russell went out to console the devastated Jerry west. That was the first and last time that a player who had lost the NBA Finals was named MVP. Three months later Bill Russell announced his retired, bringing the Celtics Dynasty to a close. West and the Lakers would have to wait till 1972 to get a taste of NBA championship. He retired in 1976, having spent his entire career with the Lakers.