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Lakers’ Forgotten Studs: Mel Counts and the 1969 Wilt Chamberlain NBA Finals Controversy – Fan’s Reflection

Mel Counts Played a Key Role in Helping the Lakers Reach the NBA Finals Four Times, but He is Most Remembered for Keeping Wilt Chamberlain on the Bench in the 1969 Finals

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Throughout the history of the Los Angeles Lakers there have been a number of standout players who will never have their numbers retired or have statues erected in their honor - call them the Lakers' Forgotten Studs.

As a Lakers fan I want to make sure their legacies are remembered.

Today's installment: Mel Counts

Winning Titles - For the Wrong Team

Lakers fans were well aware of Mel Counts long before he joined the team in 1967. Counts helped the Boston Celtics defeat the Lakers in the NBA Finals as a rookie in 1965 and once again in 1966.

The 7-foot center played for the Lakers from 1967-1970 and later from 1973-1974.

Mel Counts provided a solid interior presence to help lead the Lakers to the NBA Finals in 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1973, though the Lakers lost in the Finals each year.

The Solid Big Man

Between 1968-1970 Mel Counts provided solid contributions in the paint as he teamed up at various times with fellow big men like Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Happy Hairston. Despite the loaded Lakers frontcourt, Counts still produced solid numbers:

Mel Counts, 1969-1970 - Lakers: 24.2 MPG, 12.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 45% FG

He provided the Lakers with a talented, physical, consistent player in the post.

It was this depth that in large part helped the Lakers advance to the NBA Finals four times during his six years in Los Angeles.

1969 Finals - Take a Seat, Wilt Chamberlain

Mel Counts will forever go down in Lakers lore as the player who kept Wilt Chamberlain on the bench during Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.

With 5:45 remaining in the decisive Game 7, Wilt Chamberlain injured his knee and asked to be taken out, so Lakers' coach Butch van Breda Kolff pulled Wilt and replaced him with Counts.

With three minutes remaining Mel Counts hit a jumper to make it a one-point game.

Chamberlain was ready to re-enter the game but van Breda Kolff kept him on the bench, reportedly telling him, "We're doing well enough without you" with Counts on the court.

With Wilt Chamberlain watching from the bench, the Lakers fell 108-106 in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals.

Leaving - and Coming Back Home

The Lakers traded Mel Counts to the Phoenix Suns on May 20, 1970 to bring Gail Goodrich back to Los Angeles.

Counts spent two-plus unimpressive seasons with the Suns and the Philadelphia 76ers before returning to the Lakers during the 1973 season.

The Lakers once again advanced to the NBA Finals in 1973 with Counts as a key role player. He averaged 9.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in just 19.2 minutes per game throughout the 1973 playoffs.

Los Angeles faced the New York Knicks in the NBA Finals and Counts helped the Lakers win Game 1 by pulling down nine rebounds. It proved to be the Lakers' only win as the Knicks went on to win the next four games.

Mel Counts never won a title with the Lakers, but he was a solid player who made significant contributions in helping the team reach the Finals four times.

His legacy should not forgotten.

Andrew Sweat is a die-hard Lakers fan. For more from this author, or check these out articles:

Lakers' Forgotten Studs: Eddie Jones, the Silky Assassin

Lakers' Forgotten Studs: Nick Van Exel and His Killer Swagger

Lakers' Forgotten Studs: Cedric Ceballos, Scoring Machine

Lakers' Forgotten Studs Archive: Rick Fox | Norm Nixon | Happy Hairston | Sedale Threatt | Elden Campbell | Bob McAdoo | Sam Perkins | Jim Chones | Rudy LaRusso | Dick Barnett | Walt Hazzard

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