It is a common misconception that NBA rookies can’t win the NBA MVP award. It has happened twice in NBA history. Wilt Chamberlain, being 23 years old, received the NBA MVP award for the first time in 1960. The other instance was in 1968 when Wes Unseld, then 22 years old, earned NBA MVP.
It should be noted that both players were centers and not guards or forwards. Like most of today’s superstars are positioned on teams. There have also been two rookie winners of the NBA Finals MVP Award. Jerry West in 1969 and Magic Johnson in 1980.
Wilt Chamberlain’s 1960 NBA MVP Season
In 1960 Wilt Chamberlain averaged 37.0 points, 27.0 rebounds and had an NBA-record 100 blocks (a record since broken by Mark Eaton). He averaged 44 minutes per game in 80 games played for the Philadelphia Warriors. Who won 49 of their 82 NBA games that year.
When facing Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals, Chamberlain averaged an NBA-record 44.83 points per game over the course of the six-game series. The Warriors defeated the Celtics, who were led by Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn and had 62 victories that season compared to Philadelphia’s 49, by winning Games Two and Five by scores of 40 and 36, respectively.
In addition to winning the NBA MVP Award, Wilt was also named NBA All-Star Game MVP when he scored 23 points on 11/17 shooting from the field to go with 25 rebounds and five assists during his 1960 NBA All-Star Game at Boston Garden.
He set a record by averaging 50 minutes per game for an entire regular season (broken only by the Warriors Don Nelson who averaged 59 minutes per game in 1973).
Wilt Chamberlain went on to become arguably one of the top 20 greatest players in NBA history. He led the NBA in NBA regular season scoring seven times, NBA rebounding 11 times, and NBA assists once.
He still currently holds the NBA records for most points (100) scored in a single game, 55 rebounds in a single game, 60 minutes played per game for the duration of an NBA regular season, averages of 50+ points & 48+ minutes per game for the duration of an NBA postseason, and 42 consecutive field goals made, including his 100-point performance in March 1962 at Hershey Sports Arena against the New York Knicks while playing for Philadelphia Warriors.
Wes Unseld’s 1968 NBA MVP Season
In 1968, Wes Unseld averaged 18.0 points, 19.0 rebounds and an NBA-record 13.86 assists per game for the Baltimore Bullets who won 54 of their 82 NBA games that season (the most regular wins by a rookie in NBA history).
Unseld was one of three rookies named to the NBA All-Star Game starting lineup along with Sam Jones and Earl Monroe who were both first-year guards on Unseld’s Washington Bullets team.
Without making any changes to their roster or coaching staff between seasons, they moved from finishing last in the Eastern Division in 1967 to winning it in 1968. After Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West, Wes Unseld became just the fourth player to receive NBA MVP honors despite never making it out of the first round of NBA playoffs.
The Bullets lost their NBA Finals series to Wilt Chamberlain’s Philadelphia 76ers in six games but Unseld averaged 19 points and 22 rebounds per game despite playing with a torn groin muscle. This severely limited his contributions during the final three NBA playoff games where he only scored two total points combined!
Wes was named NBA Finals MVP for having that kind of impact on the season even though they didn’t win the championship. He also finished second to Rick Barry (23/14) in voting for NBA All-Star Game honors at Madison Square Garden.
Wes Unseld went on to become a Hall of Fame player. He assisted in guiding the Baltimore and Washington Darts/Bullets teams to four straight appearances in the NBA Finals and NBA Championships in 1978 and 1979.
He worked for the Washington Wizards as a front-office executive in the NBA where he coached their NBA D-League affiliate team from 2005 to 2011. Then he became Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations for four years (2011-2015) under Ernie Grunfeld, GM.
Wes Unseld was named NBA Executive of the Year by his peers twice during this period. As well as being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame again back in 1988. Which makes him one of only five people ever to be honored that way both as a player and an administrator/executive!
Wes Unseld, the workmanlike Hall of Fame center who led Washington to its only NBA championship and was chosen one of the 50 greatest players in league history, died last 2020 after a series of health issues, particularly pneumonia. He was 74.
Jerry West in 1969
1969 was the year for Jerry West, he was not a rookie but he’s the 1st players ever to win the NBA Finals MVP Award. on a losing team! West averaged 37.0 points per game in NBA Finals for Los Angeles Lakers.
He won the NBA Finals MVP Award that year after leading his team in scoring (37 ppg), three-pointers (seven in 14 attempts), and assists as they lost to the Boston Celtics in seven games to win the NBA championship.
Throughout the season, West averaged 33 points, five rebounds, and four assists. He also won NBA All-Star Game MVP honors. Among his most memorable performances was a record-breaking 61-point outburst against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden while Elgin Baylor was out due to injury. Jerry shot 25/46 from the field and pulled down 15 rebounds. He was simply amazing!
Jerry West also made the NBA All-Defensive First Team five years in a row (1969–1974). He is one of only four players to make NBA All-NBA Defensive Teams for at least seven seasons along with Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Kobe Bryant.
Magic Johnson’s NBA Finals MVP | 1980
In 1980 Magic Johnson won NBA Finals MVP Award as a rookie during the NBA Finals where his Los Angeles Lakers defeated Julius Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers in six games after going down two games to one. Johnson averaged 18 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists per game throughout that NBA regular season.
Los Angeles took an early advantage in the NBA Finals, but Lakers superstar big man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suffered an injury in Game 5. Johnson, who had played point guard all season, was tasked to replace the captain of the Purple and Gold as the starting center.
Absurd though it sounds, the first-year player had 42 points to go with 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals in Game 6. Los Angeles would win the game.
Johnson, a rookie, became the third player to win an NCAA title and NBA title in back-to-back years. Johnson became the first and only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award.
It was not only an extremely impressive performance but also a sign of things to come since Johnson would go on to be NBA Finals MVP for that NBA championship season along with NBA regular season (1995-96) and All-Star Game (1992 & 1996) honors as well.
He also won four more NBA Championships with the Lakers in 1982, 1985, 1987 & 1988. While earning three NBA Finals MVP Awards during this stretch which means he totaled seven overall!
We’ve covered all of the NBA MVP Award winners and those who have won the Finals MVP Award, as rookies. Did we miss any other player? If you know any other rookies who were either an NBA MVP or NBA Finals MVP winner let us know in the comments below!