Wilton Norman "Wilt" Chamberlain (August 21, 1936 – October 12, 1999) was known by various nicknames during his basketball playing career. He hated the ones that called attention to his height such as Goliath and Wilt the Stilt, which was coined during his high school days by a Philadelphia sportswriter. He preferred The Big Dipper, Dippy or Dipper, all of which were inspired by his friends who saw him dip his head as he walked through doorways. He was also called the Chairman of the Boards.
In his first NCAA varsity basketball game, the 7-foot-1 Wilt Chamberlain had 52 points and 31 rebounds, breaking both college records. He averaged 29.9 points and 18.9 rebounds in his two seasons at Kansas and was a track and field star as well. Despite losing to the Tarheels in the 1957 NCAA Championship, the first team All-America center still won the Most Outstanding Player award before going on to be one of the greatest, most dominant players in the NBA.
Cecil and Wilt
Cecil Mosenson wrote about Wilt Chamberlain :
“FIFTY YEARS - After winning three hundred varsity basketball games, after being a successful principal and as an instructor in the Philadelphia Community College and coaching ninth grade girls’ basketball at Archbishop Carroll High School, my mind still continually drifts back to that magical time when I coached Wilt Chamberlain.
My life took a dramatic turn in 1953 when I was appointed head basketball coach at Overbrook High School at the age of twenty-two. The wins and championships are somewhat blurred, but certain events during that time will never be erased from my mind.
In the fifties, Wilt was a youngster who was destined for stardom. He was 6’11 inches tall with a wing span of 72 inches. His hands from wrist to fingertip measured 9 1/2 inches so that his hand held a basketball as though it were a grapefruit. He was a prankster, and in his junior year, he had a strong dislike for authority. That junior year, not long into the season, we had our first run-in. It happened during the Frankford game. During the warmups, I was talking to the other coach and the officials when I happened to glance at Wilt. He had adorned himself with a golf cap, a shimmering white silk scarf and dark sun glasses. I called him over and told him very directly to get rid of those glad rags. We went into our pregame huddle, but he kept looking the other way and apparently not listening to me. The game was three minutes old when I realized what was happening. Wilt was angry and was refusing to shoot. I called time out and discussed the matter. I got no response so I pulled him out of the game. I gave him a few choice words at the half, but only got a sullen stare. I put him into the game and I yanked him out and this went on until the last few minutes of the game when he decided to score and we won the game although it was very close. I had a private session with him after the game and we had an understanding about what was expected. It worked because the next game he scored 71 points. This was the first of a few conflicts that established a better relationship between us. The dunk shot was scarcely known until Wilt came along. With his ability to go two and a half feet higher than the rim, and with his great strength, he could ram the ball down into the net with such force that sometimes he ripped the net. Since there was no goaltending rule, Wilt could roam the lane and swat the ball as it approached the basket. The crowds went wild.
The next year, Wilt scored 74 points early in the season and we all knew that we were going to play that same team a second time. The game was going to be in the Overbrook gym, which was very small and only seated 300 people. The Friday before the game, the practice was lousy since everyone was whooping it up for a new Chamberlain record. I called the team together and told them we were not going to humiliate the other team. Wilt fairly blazed with unspoken defiance. His belligerence was so obvious that it had to be dealt with. I whirled on him and said, ”If you don’t like the way I’m running the team, you can take a walk.” He got up and left the gym. I started practice again using plays that did not include his presence.
I went to the principal and said,” You better prepare a U. P. and an A. P. press release. I just threw Chamberlain off of the team.” I thought that he was going to faint. His response was,” Let’s wait until Monday and maybe something positive will happen.” It was a long weekend. I realized that I had just thrown the greatest high school player in the country off of the team.”
Chamberlain wanted to become a professional player before finishing his senior year. However, at that time, the NBA did not accept players who had not finished their last year of studies. Therefore, Chamberlain was prohibited from joining the NBA for a year, and decided to play for the Harlem Globetrotters in 1958 for a sum of $50,000.
Photographed by: AP
Wilt Chamberlain shooting the shot put, May 22, 1955
Cheerleaders with Wilt Chamberlain in 1957
Credit: Stan Wayman//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Source Wilt Chamberlain2.jpg
Author Fred Palumbo
World Telegram staff photographer
derivative work: JoeJohnson2 (talk)
Chamberlain became a member of the Globetrotters team which made history by playing in Moscow in 1959, enjoyed a sold out tour of the USSR and prior to the start of a game at Moscow's Lenin Central Stadium, and were greeted by the General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. One particular Trotter skit involved Trotters captain Meadowlark Lemon collapsing to the ground, and instead of helping him up, Chamberlain threw him several feet high up in the air and caught him like a doll. "(Chamberlain) was the strongest athlete who ever lived", the 210-pound Lemon recounted later. In later years, Chamberlain frequently joined the Trotters in the off-season and fondly recalled his time there, because he was no longer jeered at or asked to break records, but just one of several artists who loved to entertain the crowd. On March 9, 2000, Chamberlain's number 13 was retired by the Trotters.
On October 24, 1959, Chamberlain finally made his debut as an NBA player, starting for the Philadelphia Warriors. The Warriors' draft pick was highly unusual, as it was a so-called "territorial pick" despite the fact Chamberlain had spent his college years in Kansas, which is not a region covered by Philadelphia. However, Warriors owner Eddie Gottlieb, one of the NBA's founding fathers, argued that Chamberlain had grown up in Philadelphia and had become popular there as a high school player; and because there were no NBA teams in Kansas, he argued, the Philadelphia Warriors held his territorial rights and could draft him. The NBA agreed, marking the only time in NBA history that a player was made a territorial selection based on his pre-college roots. Chamberlain immediately became the NBA's best paid player, earning $30,000 in his rookie contract; in comparison, the previous top earner was Bob Cousy of the Boston Celtics with $25,000, and Gottlieb had bought the whole Warriors franchise for $25,000 seven years earlier.
Record-setting game, March 2, 1962
Hershey Sports Arena
Wilt Chamberlain holds a sign reading 100
Dressing room Hershey, Pa., March 2, 1962
The Warriors defeated the New York Knickerbockers 169-147
AP Photo/Paul Vathis
Chamberlain's best known feat is most likely the game that took place on March 2, 1962 between the Philadelphia Warriors and New York Knicks at Hershey, Pennsylvania. In that contest, Chamberlain hit 36 of 63 field goal attempts and an unheard of, at least for Chamberlain, 28 of 32 free throws to total 100 points. The Warriors defeated the Knicks by a count of 169-147.
The astonishing thing about Chamberlain hitting 28 of 32 free throws in the game was the fact that he struggled at the line in his career. His career free throw percentage was just 51.1 percent, as he clanked 5805 of his 11,862 attempts. After scoring 41 points in the first half, Chamberlain poured it on, scoring 28 in the third quarter and 31 in the fourth despite the Knicks double- and triple-teaming him. He scored his 100th point on a dunk with 46 seconds remaining in the contest, prompting the crowd to rush the court to congratulate him for the achievement.
In that game, Chamberlain broke his own record of 78 points scored in a contest, which he did earlier in the 1961-62 season, in a game that went to triple overtime.
Photographed by: Robert Huntzinger/SI
Chamberlain holds numerous official NBA all-time records, setting records in many scoring, rebounding and durability categories. Among other notable accomplishments, he is the only player in NBA history to average more than 40 and 50 points in a season or score 100 points in a single NBA game. He also won seven scoring, nine field goal percentage, and eleven rebounding titles, and once even led the league in assists. Although suffering a long string of professional losses, Chamberlain had a successful career, winning two NBA titles, earning four regular-season Most Valuable Player awards, the Rookie of the Year award, one NBA Finals MVP award, and being selected to 13 All-Star Games and ten All-NBA First and Second teams. Chamberlain was subsequently enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978, elected into the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team of 1980, and chosen as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History of 1996.
Photographed by: John G. Zimmerman/SI
Dominating the game as few players in any sport ever have, Chamberlain seemed capable of scoring and rebounding at will, despite the double- and triple-teams and constant fouling tactics that opposing teams used to try to shut him down.
As Oscar Robertson put it in the Philadelphia Daily News when asked whether Chamberlain was the best ever, "The books don't lie."
The record books are indeed heavy with Chamberlain's accomplishments. He was the only NBA player to score 4,000 points in a season. He set NBA single-game records for most points (100), most consecutive field goals (18) and most rebounds (55). Perhaps his most mind-boggling stat was the 50.4 points per game he averaged during the 1961-62 season--and if not that, then perhaps the 48.5 minutes per game he averaged that same year.
He retired as the all-time in career points with 31,419, which was later surpassed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan. He is tops in rebounds with 23,924. He led the NBA in scoring seven years in a row. He was the league's top rebounder in 11 of his 14 seasons. And as if to prove that he was not a selfish player, he had the NBA's highest assist total in 1967-68.
During his career, his dominance precipitated many rules changes. These rules changed included widening the lane, instituting offensive goaltending and revising rules governing inbounding the ball and shooting free throws (Chamberlain would leap with the ball from behind the foul line to deposit the ball in the basket).
No other player in NBA history has spawned so many myths nor created such an impact. It's difficult to imagine now, with the seemingly continuing surge of bigger skilled players, the effect of playing against Chamberlain, who was not only taller and stronger than almost anyone he matched up against but remarkably coordinated as well. A track and field star in high school and college, Chamberlain stood 7-1 and was listed at 275 pounds, though he filled out and added more muscle as his career progressed and eventually played at over 300 pounds.
Credit: Image donated by Corbis-Bettmann
Bill Russell & Wilt Chamberlain
Photo by Dick Raphael
Despite Chamberlain's scoring achievements, he and his teammates were not winning NBA championships. The Boston Celtics and their center Bill Russell (1934–) dominated the game in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Russell had revolutionized basketball with his defense as much as Chamberlain had with his offense, and Russell always had a great group of supporting players. Chamberlain always took a great deal of abuse from the media and fans because of his lack of success against Russell.
Finally, in 1967, Chamberlain reversed his fortunes. He had been traded to the new Philadelphia team, the 76ers, and in 1967 they finished the regular season with the best record in the history of the league. In the championship series, the 76ers polished off the San Francisco Warriors to win the first world title for Chamberlain.
Several years later Chamberlain was traded again, this time to the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers had featured numerous great players through the years, including Elgin Baylor (1934–) and Jerry West (1938–), but had not won a championship since moving to Los Angeles from Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1960. In 1972, however, the Lakers seemed poised to finally win a championship. They finished the year with the best regular season record in history, breaking the record set by Chamberlain and the 76ers in 1967. In the championship series, the Lakers played the powerful New York Knickerbockers, led by Willis Reed (1942–), Dave DeBusschere (1940–), Bill Bradley (1943–), and Walt Frazier (1945–). In the fourth game of the series Chamberlain suffered a fractured wrist. Although the Lakers led the series three games to one, the series still seemed in doubt because of Chamberlain's injury. Despite understandable pain, Chamberlain played the next game with football linemen's pads on both hands. He scored 24 points, grabbed 29 rebounds, and blocked 10 shots. The Lakers won the game and the series four games to one, bringing the first world championship to Los Angeles.
After retiring from basketball, Chamberlain was involved in a wide variety of activities. He sponsored several amateur athletic groups, including volleyball teams and track clubs. He invested wisely through the years and spent his retirement years as a wealthy man. He also kept in outstanding physical condition. When he walked into a room or onto a basketball court, he was a legendary presence.
(Wilt Chamberlain Biography at notablebiographies.com)