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Who has won the NBA MVP as a Rookie?

The MVP award is definitely the most prestigious award any player in the NBA is striving to win. This prize is given to the player, who has been outstanding throughout the whole season. Skills and incredible talent are needed to clinch this title and when it comes to the first season – everything is much harder.

Who has won the NBA MVP as rookie? There are only two players who have won the NBA MVP Award as rookies. They are Wilt Chamberlin and Wes Unseld.

During the full NBA season, 82 matches are played – if we do not take into account the 2020/2021 season which was cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. When a player comes to the NBA for the first time, it is practically impossible to take over the league immediately and become an MVP. We are talking about 80 games – it is necessary to show a consistent level in almost every game.

However, nothing is as difficult as it may seem because 2 players -2 legends – actually achieved this feat. Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld were the ones who managed to accomplish such a difficult task. Both of these players are inducted into the Hall of Fame and what makes them so special is that alongside the MVP awards, they also grabbed Rookie of the Year awards simultaneously. Chamberlain was the first player to do so and after 9 years Unseld repeated the same accomplishment. In this article, we will talk about these 2 players.

Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt was a dominant force throughout his career in the NBA and managed to surprise everyone in his first season. In 1960 as a player of the Philadelphia Warriors he became an MVP at 24 years old. The debut which he made against the New York Knicks was phenomenal amassing 42 points and 28 rebounds!

Wilt is undoubtedly one of the best and influential players of the NBA. His confrontation with Bill Russell is still remembered and Chamberlain also holds a record for most points in a single game, when he scored 100 points.

In his rookie season, Chamberlain averaged mind-blowing 37.6 points and 27 rebounds with a 46.7% field goal. Having such results in the first season is unbelievable does not matter which era we are talking about. However, he didn’t get a triple-double as an average in his rookie season.

In just 56 scores Chamberlain managed to score 2,102 points while breaking 8 other records as well. Furthermore, in the All-Star game, he became an MVP too with 23 points and 25 rebounds.

Games Played72
Minutes played46.2
Field Goal Percentage.461%
Free Throw Percentage.582%
Wilt Chamberlains stats in his first season

Wilt Chamberlain was a real wonder. His athleticism and stature constantly drew attention from experts. Other teams were simply unable to stop him without a double or triple defense even! In his rookie season, he dragged his team to the playoffs single-handedly, where, in the Eastern Conference Finals lost against the Boston Celtics, who had Bill Russell in the team.

Wilt also holds a record for the most points by a rookie in a game – 58. When he was still a rookie, Chamberlain surprised fans by saying that he was thinking about retiring, because the teams were taking hard fouls against him. And we know that if we mentioned the most obvious weakness of Chamberlain it was free-throw shooting.

Chamberlain is also the only player to collect 50 points and 35 rebounds in a playoff game and also the sole player to average 50 points in a single game. For his size, he had the unusual technique and ball-handling skills which are surprising to see even nowadays.

Wes Unseld

Wes Unseld was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in 1968 and in 1969, 9 years after Chamberlain’s feat, joined him as a second player to claim the MVP award. He was an incredible player – dominating other teams and in his first season averaged 13.8 points, 18.2 rebounds, and 2.6 assists with a field goal of 47.6%. Like Chamberlain, he also won the Rookie of the Year Award.

Being a rookie and a leader of his team, Unseld helped the Bullets to finish in first place in the Eastern Division with a 57-25 record. We should point out that the year before, the Bullets finished in the last place. Not only he excelled in offense but possessed incredible defensive capabilities.

Games Played82
Minutes Played36.2
Field Goal Percentage.0476%
Free Throw Percentage.605%
Total Rebounds18.6
Wes Unseld stats from his rookie season

His first game was not like the one Chamberlain delivered. He had 8 points and 22 rebounds in a win against the Detroit Pistons. Nevertheless, showing consistency and hard effort during the whole season helped him to win the most prestigious award.

While he led the Baltimore Bullets into the playoffs in 1969, averaging 18.8 points and 18.5 rebounds it was not enough to go further, losing in 4 games against the New York Knicks. The magic of Unseld was not enough this time.

Even though his size and height were something not typical for a center, he compensated for everything with his determination and strength. His rebounding skills were excellent, delivered incredible assists, and was fantastic in fast breaks.

Throughout his career, Unseld averaged a double-double with 10.8 points and 14 rebounds (he couldn’t quite manage a triple-double). Afterward, his number 41 jersey was retired by the Bullets.

To this time only Wilt Chamberlain and Wes Unseld remain as players who won the regular-season MVP. Still, nowadays it is considered such an incredible achievement that hardly anyone will be able to repeat the feat, Chamberlain and Unseld managed to accomplish. Back in the 60s, there was a shortage of basketball starts. Right now we have a lot of contenders for the MVP title – from LeBron James to Luka Doncic. It is harder for rookie players to challenge these dominant players in the race for the title. Though records do not stay at the same place and everything can change drastically very rapidly.