We set the “ACS Wayback Machine” to this week in 1958, where the Gateway City claimed its first, and only, championship in the National Basketball Association.
Some of our younger readers, or some of our out-of-state web visitors, might ask themselves, “Wait, St. Louis had a team in the NBA?”
Indeed they did and, 58 years ago this week, they achieved historical status within the sport.
The 1958 NBA Finals featured the St. Louis Hawks against the defending champion Boston Celtics in a re-match of last season’s league finale. The Hawks, who were in its third year of operation locally after a migration from Milwaukee in 1955, reached the best-of-seven series with a line-up containing future NBA Hall of Famers Bob Pettit, Ed Macauley, Cliff Hagan and Slater Martin.
Meanwhile, the Celtics countered with legendary center Bill Russell as well as future Hall of Famers Bob Cousy, Frank Ramsey, Tom Heinsohn, Bill Sharman and Sam Jones.
That’s a lot of talent on the hard court and the series reflected that.
Tied at one game apiece heading into Game 3, St. Louis grabbed a one-game edge after a 111-108 contest that saw the Celtics lose Russell due to a mid-game ankle injury. Despite Russell’s absence, the Celtics tied the series 2-2 with an 11-point win at Kiel Auditorium on April 5, 1958.
Returning to Boston for Game 5, and with the Celtics’ Russell still on the mend, St. Louis notched a 102-100 road triumph, paced by Pettit’s 30 points, to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
On April 12, 1958 in front of over 10,000 raucous fans at Kiel, the squads tangled in Game 6’s donnybrook. Russell was inserted back into line-up for Boston but was hampered by a cast and noticeably limped while playing.
The Hawks led 57-52 at intermission but the Celtics, propelled by Cousy’s work, sliced the score to 78-77 heading into the final quarter.
Both teams scored identical points in the fourth quarter as Pettit took charge, nailing 19 of the Hawks’ final 21 points. With St. Louis leading 106-105 in the game’s final minute, Pettit lofted a shot over Russell to give the Hawks a 108-105 advantage. Boston narrowed the deficit to a solo point with a pair of free throws made by Heinsohn, but Pettit’s tip-in with less than twenty seconds remaining gave St. Louis the cushion it needed to claim the NBA title.
Paced by Pettit’s 50 points, the Hawks beat Boston in Game 6, 110-109, and recorded a historical benchmark for the franchise with its inaugural NBA championship.
“Players get ‘hot’ and it was certainly the best that I ever played,” reflected Pettit of the triumph in a November 2015 interview with legendsofbasketball.com. “I had huge confidence and wanted the ball every time that we were on offense. I was scoring inside and outside. Everything worked out well and my teammates kept giving me the ball. I did not realize at the time how many points I had, but I knew how close the game was.”
The Hawks, who also reached the NBA finals in 1960 and 1961, continued in St. Louis until relocating to Atlanta in 1968 but the magical trophy-lifting moment recorded 58 years ago this week remains a monumental chapter written in local sports’ history.
Here’s a look at Game 6 and the NBA finale win by the 1958 St. Louis Hawks.