Chet Walker is one of the finest, most durable, and long-lasting small forwards in NBA history. Walker made his first All-Star game in 1964 and his final in 1974. He played a key role on the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers who stormed the NBA for a then-record 68 wins. If Bob Love was scoring option 1A for the Chicago Bulls of the early 1970s, then Chet was 1B.
The hot-scoring forward entered the NBA in the 1962-63 season with the Syracuse Nationals. The Nats were on a down-slide with their 1950s core aging. Chet along with Hal Greer would be two of the principal characters to resurrect the franchise after it moved to Philadelphia for the 1963-64 season. The three other principals would be Billy Cunningham (drafted in 1965), Wilt Chamberlain (acquired via trade in 1965) and Luke Jackson (drafted in 1964).
This core group had more than enough scoring to go around and Walker was a devastating piece of the puzzle. However, he was a piece of puzzle. He wasn’t the complete portrait. No one man on this team ever enjoyed prolonged periods of scoring deluges.
More than any of these other players, though, Chet was able to wind his way into the lane when the game got critical, when time was running low. He would attack off the dribble and drift across the lane for serpentine shots that very few players could replicate. When the game was on the line, you gave the ball to Chet and got the hell out of the way.
These Sixers appeared in the Eastern Division Finals in 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1968. They captured the 1967 title and likely would have secured a second title in 1968 if Billy Cunningham had not been injured in the postseason. However, in 1969 Walker was traded to the Chicago Bulls. Chet’s new home wound up having defense in spades between Norm Van Lier and Jerry Sloan. What they needed was more offensive touch and Walker was the man to give it to them.
The splits don’t lie:
Walker’s per game numbers with Nats/76ers: 13 FGAs, 45.7% FG, 5.8 FTAs, 73.9% FT, 16.2 PPG
Walker’s per game numbers with Bulls: 15.6 FGAs, 48.3% FG, 6.6 FTAs, 85.4%, 20.1 PPG
He didn’t just assume a bigger burden, he was dramatically more efficient in that assumption. The Bulls benefited mightily from Chet the Jet’s offensive take off. They made the playoffs every season and had several classic series that almost got them to the NBA Finals: the 1971 Western Conference semis that went 7-games against the Lakers, the 1973 Western semis with the same result to the same opponent, the 1975 Western Finals where Chicago squandered a 3-2 series lead against the Warriors.
Walker’s Bulls may have never reached the Finals but his presence lifted them to those trio of heartbreaking cusps. What’s more remarkable is that he was having the best years of his career at the end of his career. A salary dispute with the Bulls is what ended Walker’s career, not any reduction in production. In fact his 19.2 PPG is the 5th-highest ever for a retiring player in their final season.
It seemed the only way to truly stop Chet the Jet was to challenge his personhood and dignity. Nothing on the court ever seemed to work to thwart those devastating lean-in jumpers of his.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnMbsY3xXaI]
For more on Chet’s amazing career, check out this guest post for Ball Don’t Lie.
Seasons Played: 1963 – 1975
7x All-Star (1964, 1966-’67, 1970-’71, 1973-’74)
All-Rookie 1st Team (1963)
NBA – 1032 Games
18.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, 47.0% FG, 79.6% FT
FT% Leader (1971)