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Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain
Portrait of Chamberlain when he played for the Philadelphia Warriors.
Personal information
Born August 21, 1936
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died October 12, 1999 (age 63)
Nationality USA Flag American
Listed height 7 ft 1 in ( m)
Listed weight 275 lbs ( kg)
Career information
High school Overbrook
(Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
College Kansas (1956-1959)
NBA Draft 1959 / Territorial pick
Selected by the Philadelphia Warriors
Playing career 1959-1975 (16 years)
Position Center
Jersey no. 13
Career history
1959-1964 Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors
1965-1968 Philadelphia 76ers
1968-1973 Los Angeles Lakers
Career highlights and awards
  • 2× NBA champion (1967, 1972)
  • NBA Finals MVP (1972)
  • 4× NBA Most Valuable Player (1960, 1966–1968)
  • 13× NBA All-Star (1960–1969, 1971–1973)
  • NBA All-Star Game MVP (1960)
  • 7× All-NBA First Team (1960–1962, 1964, 1966–1968)
  • 3× All-NBA Second Team (1963, 1965, 1972)
  • 2× NBA All-Defensive First Team (1972, 1973)
  • NBA Rookie of the Year (1960)
  • 7× NBA scoring champion (1960–1966)
  • 11× NBA rebounds leader (1960–1963, 1966–1969, 1971–1973)
  • 9× NBA field goal percentage leader
  • NBA assists leader (1968)
  • No. 13 retired by Golden State Warriors
  • No. 13 retired by Philadelphia 76ers
  • No. 13 retired by Los Angeles Lakers
  • NBA 35th Anniversary Team
  • NBA 50th Anniversary Team
  • NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (1957)
  • 2× Consensus first-team All-American (1957, 1958)
NBA.com profile profile

Wilton Norman "Wilt" Chamberlain (August 21, 1936-October 12, 1999) nicknamed The Big Dipper was an American professional basketball player and Basketball Hall of Famer. The 7'1", 275-pound Chamberlain played the center position and is credited as the one of the most successful and dominant players in the history of the NBA. Chamberlain holds forty-six official NBA all-time records,[1] among them 25 regular-season records,[2] setting yardsticks in many scoring, rebounding and durability categories. Among others, he is the only player in NBA history to average more than 50 points in a season or score 100 points in a single game. He also won seven scoring and eleven rebounding titles.[3]

Apart from his outstanding statistical feats, he also had a successful career, winning two NBA titles, four regular-season Most Valuable Player awards, one NBA Finals MVP award, and being elected into 13 All-Star games and into ten All-NBA First and Second teams.[4] [5] For his outstanding feats, Chamberlain was 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.[5]

Early years and Overbrook High School

Wilton Norman Chamberlain was born into a big family of nine children. In his early years, Chamberlain was an avid track and field athlete, posting up statistics like a decathlete. As a youth, he high jumped 6 feet, 6 inches, ran the 440 in 49.0 seconds and the 880 in 1:58.3, put the shot 53 feet, 4 inches, and broad jumped 22 feet.[6] However, he soon discovered that basketball was ideally suited for him; when Chamberlain entered Overbrook High School, he was already 6'11".[3] In high school, Chamberlain established himself as one of the most dominant high school players of all time. In his three varsity seasons, Overbrook lost a total of just three games, going 19-2, 18-0 and 19-1 to win two city championships. In addition, Chamberlain broke Tom Gola's high school scoring record by scoring 2,252 points, averaged 44.5 points in his senior year and had three individual games in which he scored 90, 74 and 71 points.[4][7] In his 90-point game against Roxborough High School, Chamberlain also had an outburst when he scored 60 points in 10 minutes, thus scoring a basket every 12 seconds.[5]

In the days when so-called “big men” like 6'10" Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan were still a rare breed in the NBA, Chamberlain, who already stood 6'11", terrified his high school opposition He often towered a foot and more over most of other players on the court.[8] It was also in this period of his life when his three life-long nicknames were born. He hated two of them, “Wilt the Stilt” and “Goliath”, and preferred the more pleasing “The Big Dipper”, allegedly born because he always had to dip his head before entering a room.[4] When Chamberlain left Overbrook in 1955, he had led them to a 56-3 record and two city championships, while averaging 37.4 points.[9] Over 200 universities wanted to recruit the basketball prodigy,[3] but Chamberlain then proclaimed he was going to play college basketball at the University of Kansas.

University of Kansas

In 1955, Chamberlain became a player of the local Kansas Jayhawks under Hall-of-Fame coach Phog Allen. In those times, freshmen could not enter the varsity squad. In Chamberlain’s debut game for the freshman squad, the freshman Jayhawks were pitted against the varsity Jayhawks, who were favoured to win their conference that year. Chamberlain dominated his older college mates by scoring 52 points (16-35 from the field, 10-12 on free throws), grabbing 29 rebounds and registering four blocks, as recalled in an December 21, 1955 article for The Sporting News.[6] In that piece, writer Don Pierce wrote a raving essay about Chamberlain, describing him as a gate-magnet who sold out the Jayhawks’ 11,000-seat Allen Fieldhouse, and comparing the new recruit favourably to contemporary NBA great Clyde Lovellette. In his scouting report, he describes Chamberlain as a seven-foot, lean 225-pound athlete with a 24-inch vertical jump, who scored with a mix of bankshots, jumpshots, drives and dunks, and possessed an unusual level of stamina, with the only drawback a lack of defensive timing.[6] In Overbrook, Chamberlain again showcased his great athletic talent. He ran the 100-yard dash in 10.9 seconds, threw the shotput 56 feet, triple jumped more than 50 feet, and won the high jump in the Big Eight track and field championships three straight years.[10]

On December 3, 1956, Chamberlain made his varsity debut. In that year, he made the First Team of the All-America squad and led his Jayhawks into the NCAA finals against the Tar Heels of North Carolina. In that game, Tar Heels coach Frank McGuire used several unorthodox tactics to thwart Chamberlain. At the tip-off, he sent his shortest player, Tommy Kearns, in order to rattle him, and the Tar Heels spent the rest of the night triple-teaming Chamberlain, one defender in front, one behind and a third arriving as soon as he got the ball. The game went into three overtimes and Carolina won 54-53. For years to come, Chamberlain considered it his most devastating loss.[8] However, he was elected the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.[7] Chamberlain never got a shot to improve his 52-point record, because virtually any opponent used a deep zone defense against the Jayhawks, willingly giving up many outside shots to enable double- and triple-teams against him in the post.[3]

However, after two years at Kansas, Chamberlain averaged incredible statistics of 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds per game; in total, 1,433 points and 877 rebounds,[8] and had led Kansas to two Big Seven championships.[5] With these figures, the public rapidly paid attention to the seven-foot-one basketball sensation. By the time Chamberlain was 21, he had already been featured in the Time, Life, Look and Newsweek magazines, an incredible feat for an amateur player.[9]

Professional career

Harlem Globetrotters

After a frustrating junior year in which Kansas did not reach the NCAA Tournament -- at the time, teams that had lost their league championship were not invited -- Chamberlain decided to turn pro.[11] Tired of being double- and triple-teamed every night, Chamberlain decided he wanted to be paid for his duties, and wanted to go pro before finishing his senior year. However, in those times, the NBA prohibited to accept players who had not finished their last year of studies. Therefore, Chamberlain was in limbo for a year, and at last decided to play for the Harlem Globetrotters in 1958 for a then-astronomical sum of $50,000.[4][7]

There, owner Abe Saperstein had to solve a dilemma. His team now had two great centers, namely Chamberlain and Meadowlark Lemon, who filled out the Trotters' "clown prince" role. While Lemon was essential for their comedic routines, Saperstein hardly could afford to bench his newest addition. Saperstein went for a novel approach, playing Chamberlain as a point guard, and thus allowing to show off his shooting, penetrating and passing skills. The 7-1 Chamberlain became arguably the tallest playmaker on any professional level.[12] Chamberlain became 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, were greeted by the late General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev.[13] In later years, he fondly recalled his time as a Trotter, stating that in that time, every African-American kid looked up to the star-spangled basketball team, and being part of that squad was like "being a movie star". Chamberlain also confessed that after each Trotters appearance, he had a hard time returning back to the NBA, because it was so much fun. In addition, he thought that his Trotters colleague Lemon was the best player he had ever seen.[14] In an 1986 interview, Chamberlain explained that he loved the Trotters so much because he was no longer jeered at or asked to break records, but just one of several artists who loved to entertain the crowd.[15]

As of 2007, Chamberlain is only one of five Globetrotters who are enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, the others being William Gates, Connie Hawkins, Marques Haynes, and founder Abe Saperstein. On March 9, 2000, Chamberlain’s number 13 was retired by the Trotters. It was the first-ever jersey to be retired by that team.[13]

Philadelphia / San Francisco Warriors

In the 1959-60 NBA season, Chamberlain finally made his debut as a 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. However, Warriors’s 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. Because there were no NBA teams in Kansas, he argued, the 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.[4]

The Warriors never regretted their choice. From the beginning, Chamberlain brought a level of domination to the game which had seldom been seen before. In his debut game against the New York Knicks, the rookie scored 43 points and 28 rebounds.[4] When the regular season had ended, Chamberlain averaged an incredible 37.6 points and 27.0 rebounds (obliterating the previous regular-season records), earning himself the NBA Most Valuable Player and NBA Rookie of the Year awards. In NBA history, this highly impressive double-trophy debut would only be duplicated once by Wes Unseld, who won both trophies in the 1968-69 NBA season.[7] Chamberlain capped off his rookie season awards by also winning the NBA All-Star Game MVP award with a 23 point, 25 rebound performance for the East. However, in the playoffs, success eluded the young superstar. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Warriors met the Boston Celtics of legendary center Bill Russell and Hall-of-Fame coach Red Auerbach. Despite outscoring Russell by 81 points, the Warriors lost, four games to two. Defeat by the Celtics would become a regular occurrence in Chamberlain’s career.[4] In historical perspective, the rivalry between Chamberlain and his perennial nemesis Bill Russell would grow out to become the NBA’s greatest on-court rivalry of all time.[5] It must be noted that Russell and Chamberlain were fierce rivals on court, but also best friends in personal life, similar to later rivals Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

File:Russellchamberlain.JPG

From the beginning of his NBA career, Chamberlain was seen as a freak of nature, jeered at by the fans, scorned by the media. Decades later, sports journalist Frank Deford of ESPN said that Chamberlain was caught in a lose-lose situation: "If you [Chamberlain] win, everybody says, 'Well, look at him, he's that big.' If you lose, everybody says, 'How could he lose, a guy that size?' "[9] Colleague Larry Schwartz added that Chamberlain made scoring "look too easy"; if anything went wrong, Chamberlain was singled out as the culprit, and recalled he also was the player to boo on road games. Chamberlain himself often said: "Nobody roots for Goliath."[7] In addition, Chamberlain was often victim of hard fouls. Hall-of-Fame Boston Celtics forward Tom Heinsohn said his team ruthlessly exploited his only weakness, free throw shooting, with an early version of the Hack-a-Shaq -- a tactic coined after similarly dominant, but equally poor foul shooter Shaquille O'Neal, in which a poor free throw shooter (i.e. Chamberlain or O’Neal) is intentionally fouled, in the hope that he misses free throws and the team gets an easy ball possession without giving up many points. "Half the fouls against him were hard fouls", Heinsohn continued, "he [Chamberlain] took the most brutal pounding of any player ever".[4] The rookie Chamberlain then shocked the Warriors' fans by saying he was thinking of retiring. He was tired being subject of double- and triple teams, and teams hacking him down with hard fouls. Chamberlain feared to lose his cool one day, a thing which he did not want to happen.[4]

However, in the next season, Chamberlain continued his strong play. In that season, he averaged 38.4 points and 27.2 rebounds per game, becoming the first player to break the 3,000-point barrier and the first (and still only) player to break the 2,000-rebound barrier (with 2,149) for a single season. (1961).[16][7] However, Chamberlain’s Warriors again failed to convert his stellar play into team success, as the Warriors this time bowed out against the Syracuse Nationals of Hall-of-Famer Dolph Schayes with 0-3.[17]

Wilt Chamberlain would collect many superlatives the next season, 1961-62. In that season, Chamberlain set all-time records which never have been threatened ever since. He scored a mind-boggling 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game,[16] his 4,029 regular-season points making him the first and only player to break the 4,000-point barrier. To place this in perspective the only player other than Chamberlain to break the 3,000-point barrier is Michael Jordan, who scored 3,041 in the 1986-87 NBA season. Chamberlain once again broke the 2,000 rebound barrier by grabbing 2,052. In addition, Chamberlain was on the hardwood for an average of an equally mind-boggling 48.5 minutes, playing 3,882 of his team's 3,890 minutes.[16] On March 2, 1962, Chamberlain delivered another incredible performance and became the first player to score 100 points in a single NBA game, scoring 100 points in the 169-147 victory of his Warriors against the New York Knicks.[7] To date, none of these records have ever been threatened. If Chamberlain had never played, the best scoring average would have been scored by Elgin Baylor (38.3 points), the next best rebounding performance from a player other than Chamberlain is Bill Russell with 24.7 in 1963-64, and the next highest single game total is Kobe Bryant's 81 points. However, the Warriors stranded again in the playoffs, four games to three, again succumbing to Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics.[18]

In the next 1962-63 NBA season, the Warriors had relocated from Philadelphia to San Francisco to become the San Francisco Warriors. Chamberlain continued his incredible array of statistical feats, scoring 44.8 points and 24.3 rebounds in that year.[16] However, despite his incredible statistics, the Warriors missed the playoffs.[19] In the following season of 1963-64 Chamberlain had another incredible season with 36.9 ppg / 22.3 rpg,[16] and the San Francisco Warriors went all the way to the NBA Finals, but then succumbed to the fantastic Boston Celtics team of Bill Russell again, this time losing four games to one. In the Russell-Chamberlain matchups, Russell now had a 3-0 post-season edge a despite getting outplayed regularly on a statistical level.[20]

In the following season, Chamberlain had yet another stellar season with 38.9 ppg / 23.5 rpg,[16] but then, the Warriors ran into financial trouble. At the 1965 All-Star break, Chamberlain was traded back to Philadelphia to the Philadelphia 76ers, the new name of the relocated Syracuse Nationals, who had left Syracuse to move to Philadelphia. In return, the Warriors received Paul Neumann, Connie Dierking, Lee Shaffer and $150,000.[7][4] When Chamberlain left the Warriors, owner Franklin Mieuli said: “Chamberlain is not an easy man to love […] but the fans in San Francisco never learned to love him. Wilt is easy to hate […] people came to see him lose.”[11]

Philadelphia 76ers

After the trade, Chamberlain found himself in a promising Sixers team that included guards Hal Greer, a future Hall of Famer, and talented role players Larry Costello, Chet Walker and Lucious Jackson. Chamberlain again was incredible, posting stats of 34.7 ppg and 22.9 rpg.[16] However, as with the Warriors, Chamberlain’s Sixers team was unable to power past the sheer unbeatable Celtics, Bill Russell’s team beating Chamberlain’s squad soundly with 1-4, establishing the Russell-Chamberlain score at 4-0 in six years.[11] [21]

In the 1965-66 NBA season, the Sixers posted a record 55-25 regular season, and for his strong play, Chamberlain was handed his second MVP award.[5] In that season, the giant center had again dominated his opposition by scoring 33.5 points and 24.6 rebounds a game.[16] In the Eastern Conference Finals that year, the Sixers fought the Celtics again, and they split the first six games. The decision came down to the final seconds of Game 7, when the Celtics won by one point with a legendary play: when the 76ers' Hal Greer attempted to pass the ball inbounds, John Havlicek stole it to preserve the Celtics' lead. Again, Bill Russell’s team had eluded Chamberlain, for the fifth time in seven years.[4] According to Chamberlain, that was the time that people were calling him “loser”.[7][22]

Prior to the 1966-67 NBA season, Sixers coach Alex Hannum talked to the center and persuaded him to change his style of play. Loaded with so many other players who could score, such as future Hall-of-Famers Hal Greer and new recruit Billy Cunningham, Hannum wanted Chamberlain to concentrate more on defense.[7][2] As a consequence, Chamberlain's averaged a career-low 24.3 points, but he led the league in rebounds (24.3), ended third in assists (7.8), had a stellar .683 field goal accuracy and played strong defense.[16] For this feats, Chamberlain earned his third MVP award. The Sixers charged their way to an then-record 68-13 season, including a record 45-4 start,[4], and in this season, Chamberlain set yardsticks in field goal accuracy. In February 1967, he scored 35 consecutive field goals without a miss, and in that year, also became the first and only NBA player in history to attempt 15 or more field goals and make them all, going 18-18, 16-16 and 15-15 in three different games.[9] The Sixers easily defeated the Boston Celtics with 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals; after five frustrating losses, Chamberlain had finally vanquished his nemesis Bill Russell. Then, the Sixers defeated San Francisco 4-2 in the 1967 NBA Finals. Chamberlain at last had won his first championship.[7][23] In that series, Chamberlain scored a relatively modest 17.7 points per game, but snared an incredible 28.7 rebounds per game. In fact, his worst rebounding game in that series was Game 6 with 23. His board-cleaning feat was made even more astonishing by the fact that the opposing center was top rebounder Nate Thurmond, who himself averaged 26.7 RPG over that series. Chamberlain and Thurmond became the 5th and 6th (and until today, last) players to grab 20+ rebounds in every game of the NBA Finals.[24] In 1980, that 1967 Philadelphia team was voted the NBA's best team of the first 35 years of the league. Chamberlain himself described the team as the best in NBA history.[16]

In the 1967-68 NBA season, Chamberlain continued playing as a team player. Again, his statistical poutput stagnated, so that he scored “only” 24.3 points and 23.8 rebounds.[16] However, he wrote history by becoming the first only center in NBA history to finish the season as leader in assists. His 702 assists beat the runner-up, Hall-of-Fame point guard Lenny Wilkins, by 23.[9] For this feats, Chamberlain won his fourth and last MVP title.[5] However, Chamberlain's extremely unselfish style of play led to different sorts of frustration. In the 1968 Eastern Division Finals, the Sixers were pitted against Bill Russell's Boston Celtics. The Sixers took a 3-1 lead, but the Celtics tied the series. In the second half of Game 7, Chamberlain did not attempt a single shot from the field, and the Sixers lost the game and the series. Asked later for the reason, he simply stated that coach Hannum had not told him to shoot.[2] So, Bill Russell’s Celtics took the title, and Chamberlain was now 1-6 in series against his perennial nemesis.

After that season, coach Alex Hannum left the Sixers to coach the Oakland Oaks in the newly-founded ABA. Chamberlain. Chamberlain then asked for a trade, and Sixers general manager Jack Ramsay traded Chamberlain for Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark and Jerry Chambers.[2] The motivations for this move remain in dispute. According to sports writer Roland Lazenby, a journalist close to the Los Angeles Lakers, Chamberlain got into a nasty dispute with the 76ers' owners, Ike Richman and Irv Kosloff. Chamberlain was promised by Richman a part of the club, but Richman died before the deal was completed. When Kosloff became sole owner, he refused to honor Richman's agreement with Chamberlain, infuriating the superstar. He threatened with retirement, and reached a truce with Kosloff to play out the season and then contemplate the future.[11] However, according to Dr. Jack Ramsay, who was the Sixers general manager then, Chamberlain volunteered to be player-coach if he [Ramsay] would become his assistant. Ramsay discussed it with owner Irv Kosloff and got the green light, but then Chamberlain changed his mind and demanded to be traded to the Lakers, threatening he would jump to the ABA, too. In any case, Ramsay made the trade, but often wondered what might have been if his star player had stuck to his plan.[2] In any case, that trade qualifies as one of the most lopsided NBA trades ever, as the Sixers traded the most dominant player of his generation for three role players, and helped send the Sixers from a stellar 62-20 record to an atrocious 9-73 record in the span of five seasons.[25]

Los Angeles Lakers

In Los Angeles, Chamberlain joined a Lakers squad which shared the same fate as him, namely being perennially beaten by the Boston Celtics. Up to 1968, the team of future Hall-of-Famers Elgin Baylor and Jerry West had gone 0-6 in NBA Finals against Bill Russell’s team. With the new star center, the Lakers became instant favourites to win the 1969 NBA Finals. However, not everybody in Los Angeles greeted Wilt Chamberlain with open arms. The press tried to sow enmity between Chamberlain and West, and wrote that West did not want Chamberlain as a team mate. However, West vehemently denied any antipathy, and said those claims were ridiculous. West, who was smarting from a long string of NBA Finals losses against the sheer invincible Celtics, lauded Chamberlain as a "true center" who helped "make me [West] a better player".[26]

However, Chamberlain did soon clash with Lakers coach Bill van Breda Kolff, who was upset with the trade. The coach feared that the dominant low post presence Chamberlain would disrupt his Princeton-style tactics, which relied on fast player movement, all five sharing the ball. In particular, van Breda Kolff accused Chamberlain of slacking off in practice, and for “parking” in the low post, blocking the drives of highly prolific slasher Baylor. In return, Chamberlain loathed van Breda Kolff because he felt he straight-jacketed him into a scheme which took away his stats. The tensions flared up so high that allegedly at one point, coach and center shouted at each other at the top of their voices, and Elgin Baylor had to throw himself between both to prevent a fistfight.[11] Siding against Chamberlain, the press was quick to point out the 32-year-old Chamberlain’s “worsening” stats (Chamberlain averaged 20.5 points and 21.1 rebounds a game that season)[16], his –then-- astronomical $250,000 a year salary and billed him as an unthankful, aging has-been.[11]

The Lakers were heavily favored to win the 1969 NBA Finals against the aging Celtics, but then Chamberlain became the victim of one of the most controversial coaching decisions in NBA history. After splitting the first six games, in Game 7, Chamberlain hurt his leg with six minutes left to play, with the Lakers trailing by nine points. Lakers coach van Breda Kolff took him out, and when Chamberlain wanted to return with three minutes left, Van Breda Kolff decided to bench him until the end. The Celtics won, 108-106, and as a testament how hard unlikely the win had been, Jerry West of the Lakers became the first – and of 2007, only – NBA Finals MVP of the losing team.[27] When Chamberlain had asked out of the game, the Lakers had been trailing by nine points, but then mounted a comeback to pull within one by the time he asked back in; this caused some to assume that Chamberlain had not really been injured, but instead had given up and "copped out" of the game when it looked as though the Lakers would lose. However, when Chamberlain's teammate Jerry West heard of Van Breda Kolff's decision, he was utterly disgusted, and passionately defended Chamberlain.[4] This also marked the low points of the friendship between Chamberlain and Russell. Russell suspected Chamberlain had deliberately put himself out of the game, and accused him of unsportsmanlike conduct. This almost caused Chamberlain to end their friendship, and only years later, they patched things up.[15] Because Russell retired after that season, the legendary Russell-Chamberlain rivalry came to an end, with Chamberlain regularly outscoring his rival, but with Russell winning 7-1 series against his best friend.

In his second Lakers year, Chamberlain seriously injured his knee. He missed almost the entire 82-game regular season, only appearing in 12 games. However, he was able to make a comeback just before the playoffs started, and played in all 18 Lakers playoff games. However, the Lakers charged through the playoffs, and in the 1970 NBA Finals, the Lakers were pitted against the rugged New York Knicks, loaded with future Hall-of-Famers Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Walt Frazier. The teams fought a hard, gruelling series, but the Knicks took a 3-1 lead before center Reed injured his leg. With nobody to counter Chamberlain down low, the Lakers tied the series, and looked winners prior to Game 7. However, Reed famously hobbled up court, won the tip against Chamberlain, scored the first four points, and then solely concentrated on locking Chamberlain down, inspiring his team to one of the most famous playoff upsets of all time.[28] Although Reed was able to play only a fraction of the game, and could hardly move when he did play, Chamberlain still scored only 21 points (his season average had been 27.3)[16] on only 16 shots, quite few in a Game 7. Further, he shot an abysmal 1-of-11 from the foul line, making the game perhaps his greatest on-court failure.[29] A spirited Walt Frazier scored 36 points to upset the Lakers 110-99 and take the NBA championship. Frazier later stated that the 34-year old Chamberlain had lost some of his mobility, but without Reed's relentless defense, it would have been difficult to win.[1]

In the 1970-71 NBA season, the Lakers made a notable move by signing sharpshooting guard Gail "Stumpy" Goodrich. However, after losing Elgin Baylor to a knee injury that effectively ended his career, the Lakers failed to reach the 1971 NBA Finals, getting easily defeated by the champions Milwaukee Bucks with young future Hall-of-Fame pivot Lew Alcindor and veteran superstar guard Oscar Robertson.[30]

In the 1971-72 NBA season, the Lakers signed former Celtics star guard Bill Sharman as the head coach. Sharman wanted to introduce morning shoot-arounds and secondly transform the veteran Chamberlain into a defensive-minded, low-scoring post defender, thinking the Lakers had enough firepower with high-scoring guards West and Goodrich and forward Jim McMillan.[1] The coach was anxious for several reasons. It was well known that Chamberlain slept late and woke up at noon, was very fixated on good stats, and also, Sharman was afraid that the all-time scoring champion Chamberlain would simply laugh into his face at the thought of being relegated like that.[1] When he talked to his star center, Sharman tried to take out the sting by stating he wanted Chamberlain to play like his retired rival Bill Russell, who never put up great scoring stats, but always seemed to win. Sharman was surprised how easily Chamberlain took the pill, dedicated himself to playing tough defense, was content with being the fourth scoring option and only missed two morning shoot-arounds the entire season.[1] In that season, Chamberlain and the Lakers finally put it all together. In spite of the loss of Baylor, who retired after eleven games into the season, Chamberlain, West and Goodrich led the Lakers through a record setting season. Shortly after Baylor's retirement, the Lakers would embark on a never approached 33 game win streak en-route to a then-record 69 wins in the regular season, and would win their first and only Lakers title in 1972. Powered by Finals MVP West, the Lakers took revenge on the New York Knicks and convincingly defeated them 4-1 in the 1972 NBA Finals.[31] This Lakers team included the forwards, scorer Jim McMillan and rebounding and defensive specialist Happy Hairston. In the series against the Knicks, Chamberlain averaged 19.2 PPG and was elected Finals MVP, mainly for his incredible rebounding. In the final game, he scored 23 points and had 29 rebounds, despite a badly sprained right wrist. Over the series, he averaged 23.2 rebounds per game, taking in almost a quarter of the series' entire rebound total—at age 36.[32]

The 1972-73 NBA season was Chamberlain’s last, although he did not know this at the time. In his last NBA year, he averaged 13.2 points and 18.6 points rebounds, still enough to win the rebounding crown. In addition, he shot with an all-time NBA record .727 accuracy from the field, bettering his own mark of .683 from the 1966-67 season — neither percentage has been topped by any other player[16] Powered by his defensive presence, and carried by the offensive firepower of fellow veteran Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, the Lakers reached 1973 NBA Finals. The Lakers won Game 1 with 115-112, but the Knicks stormed back to win the next four games, powered by NBA Finals MVP Willis Reed and their newest addition, slick Hall-of-Fame shooting guard Earl "The Pearl" Monroe.[33] Chamberlain could not know yet that this loss was the last professional game of his career.[7][34]

Death

During his entire life, Chamberlain was known for his great physical fitness. This is most remarkably featured in the 1961-62 NBA season, where he stood on the hardwood for an average 48.5 minutes, an all-time NBA record. However, in the nineties, he developed heart problems. In 1992, Chamberlain was hospitalised for three days following an irregular heartbeat, and in 1999, his situation deteriorated rapidly. After undergoing dental surgery in that year, he lost 50 pounds, was in great pain and seemed unable to recover from the stress. On October 12, 1999, Chamberlain passed away at age 63. His agent Sy Goldberg stated Chamberlain died of congestive heart failure, and for about a month, doctors had been draining his legs of fluid that had accumulated because of the heart problem.[3]

The whole basketball world was in shock. In his sixties, Chamberlain was still a muscular, well-conditioned man, and therefore many had thought of him as the epitome of physical fitness.[7] [35] NBA players and officials mourned the loss of a player they universally remembered as a figurehead of the sport. His lifelong on-court nemesis and personal friend Bill Russell stated "the fierceness of our competition bonded us together for eternity", and Russell's coach Red Auerbach praised Chamberlain as vital for the success of the entire NBA. Ex-Lakers team mate Jerry West fondly remembered him as an utterly dominant, yet friendly and humorous player, and fellow Hall-of-Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnny Kerr, Phil Jackson and Wes Unseld as well as later stars like Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan universally called Chamberlain one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.[36]

Awards and feats

Main article: Career achievements of Wilt Chamberlain

Chamberlain holds forty-six official NBA all-time records,[1] among them 25 regular-season records,[2], among them the most regarding scoring, rebounding, and playing time; in Chamberlain's time, defensive statistics like blocks and steals had not been recorded yet. Among his 46 records are several which are regarded as virtually unbreakable, such as averaging 22.9 rebounds for a career or 50.4 points in a regular season, scoring 100 points or 55 rebounds in a single game, scoring 65 points or more fifteen times, 50 or more points 118 times, having 126 consecutive 20-plus point games, logging the all-time highest season field goal percentage (.727) or never fouling out in 1,045 games.[7] [4] An awe-struck Hall-of-Fame guard Walt Frazier just needed one word to sum up the significance of Chamberlain's records: "Comical".[1]

The 100-point game

File:T1 wilt2.jpg
Main article: 100 point game

On March 2, 1962, in a 169-147 Warriors victory over the New York Knicks at Hersheypark Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Chamberlain scored 100 points in a standard regulation game, 59 in the second half alone, mainly victimising Knicks reserve center Darrall Imhoff. He became the first, and as of 2007, only NBA player in history to score 100 points or more.[37] No video footage exists of this phenomenal achievement because the game was not televised, although there is an audio recording of the game's radio broadcast. For the game, Chamberlain ended with 100 points, going 36-of-63 from the field and 28-of-32 from the free throw line. In those times, a three-point line was not introduced yet. Chamberlain also grabbed 25 rebounds.[37] As a side note, two weeks later, the Warriors and the Knicks squared off again, this time in the Madison Square Garden. This time, Imhoff played all 48 minutes and got a standing ovation -- because he had held Chamberlain to "only" 54 points.[35]

Personal life

Chamberlain was born as the son of Olivia and William Chamberlain. He was born into a big family where he was one of nine children.[7] Chamberlain remembers having a comfortable, middle-class upbringing, unaffected by racial or religious issues. Therefore, he had little reservation to join Overbrook High School, a school with many Jewish students, and all his life strongly opposed bigotry of any kind.[15] Chamberlain was one of the NBA's first six-digit-salary players and could afford a level of luxury few other athletes at that time could permit themselves, such as buying a penthouse in New York and living a bachelor's life. In his twenties, he would often stay out until late in the night and only wake up at noon.[1] Referring to the one nickname he loved, Chamberlain called his mansion “Ursa Major” (The Big Dipper).[4]

Despite being jeered and ridiculed all his basketball career, Chamberlain was known to be a humble, friendly and social character. He regularly mingled into the public, having no problems being recognised as Wilt Chamberlain and refraining from having great entourages, facts which impressed his team mate Jerry West.[35] Sixers’ ex-general manager Dr. Jack Ramsay confirmed these facts, recalling Chamberlain regularly took walks in downtown Philadelphia and acknowledged honking hoots with the air of a man enjoying all the attention. He also added that Chamberlain loved good food and fast cars, never was short of female company and often entertained people with stories from his life as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters.[2] As a side note, Chamberlain always wore rubber bands around his wrists, at first to hold up his socks, then just for effect. He stated: “I kept wearing them because it reminded me of who I was, where I came from," he says. "Then suddenly, about two years ago, I felt that I just didn't need that reminder anymore. So I took off the rubber bands." He stopped wearing them in the mid-eighties.[15]

West also stated that Chamberlain was friendly, but tended to have strong opinions on everything,[35] and tended to be a bit aloof because he thought he was the best in everything.[11] In an interview with Scott Ostler of the Los Angeles Times, Chamberlain claimed to have dunked on an experimental 12-foot-high basket set up by Phog Allen at the University of Kansas. [38] This assumption is debatable; in perspective, as of 2007, the recognised world record (Guinness Book of Records entry) is set by Michael Wilson of the Harlem Globetrotters, who needed an alley-oop to dunk into a 12-foot basket.

Death

Sadly, Wilt Chamberlain died on October 12, 1999 of heart failure in his Los Angeles home. He was 63 years old. His hometown of Philadelphia built a statue to remember him.

Gallery

See also

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External links

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Template:Philadelphia 76ers 1966-67 NBA champions Template:Los Angeles Lakers 1971-72 NBA champions

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Lawrence, Mitch (2007-02-10). "Chamberlain's feats the stuff of legend". http://espn.go.com/nba/columns/lawrence_mitch/110858.html. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Ramsay, Jack (2007-02-10). "Wilt's spirit was larger than life". http://espn.go.com/nba/columns/drjack_ramsay/111128.html. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 espn.com (2007-02-10). "Chamberlain towered over NBA". http://espn.go.com/nba/news/1999/1012/110493.html. 
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 nba.com (2007-02-10). "Wilt Chamberlain Bio". http://www.nba.com/history/players/chamberlain_bio.html. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 hoophall.com (2007-02-10). "Wilt Chamberlain Biography". http://www.hoophall.com/halloffamers/Chamberlain.htm. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Pierce, Don (2007-02-10). "Chamberlain rated greatest in court game". http://www.sportingnews.com/archives/wilt/article3.html. 
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 Schwartz, Larry (2007-02-10). "Wilt battled loser label". http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014133.html. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Bock, Hal (2007-02-10). "More than a big man, Wilt was a giant". http://espn.go.com/nba/news/1999/1012/110885.html. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Schwartz, Larry (2007-02-10). "A revolutionary force". http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00131528.html. 
  10. "Biography - Wilt Chamberlain". HickokSports.com. 06 September 2004. http://www.hickoksports.com/biograph/chamberl.shtml. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 Lazenby, Roland (2007-02-14). "Big Norman". http://www.hoopshype.com/articles/wilt_lazenby.htm. 
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  13. 13.0 13.1 harlemglobetrotters.com (2007-02-10). "The Original Harlem Globetrotters". http://www.harlemglobetrotters.com/team/legends/chamberlain.asp. 
  14. espn.com (2007-02-10). "Wilt spoke of regrets, women and Meadowlark". http://espn.go.com/nba/news/1999/1012/110905.html. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Deford, Frank (2007-02-10). "Just doing fine, my man". http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/news/1999/10/12/wilt_at_50/. 
  16. 16.00 16.01 16.02 16.03 16.04 16.05 16.06 16.07 16.08 16.09 16.10 16.11 16.12 16.13 basketball-reference.com (2007-02-14). "Wilt Chamberlain Statistics". http://www.basketball-reference.com/players/c/chambwi01.html. 
  17. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1961 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1961.html. 
  18. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1962 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1962.html. 
  19. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1963 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1963.html. 
  20. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1964 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1964.html. 
  21. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1965 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1965.html. 
  22. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1966 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1966.html. 
  23. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1967 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1967.html. 
  24. "NBA Finals 1967". 2007-02-10. http://webuns.chez-alice.fr/finals/1967.htm. 
  25. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1208/is_n47_v221/ai_20016458
  26. espn.com (2007-02-10). "Wilt, West lead Lakers to first title". http://espn.go.com/nba/news/1999/1012/110902.html. 
  27. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1969 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1969.html. 
  28. nba.com (2007-02-10). "Willis Reed Bio". http://www.nba.com/history/players/reed_bio.html. 
  29. "NBA Finals 1970". 2007-02-10. http://webuns.chez-alice.fr/finals/1970.htm#Game%20#7. 
  30. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1971 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1971.html. 
  31. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1972 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1972.html. 
  32. "NBA Finals 1972". 2007-02-10. http://webuns.chez-alice.fr/finals/1972.htm. 
  33. basketball-reference.com (2007-02-10). "1973 NBA Season Summary". http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_1973.html. 
  34. Template:Cite book
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 Sheridan, Chris (2007-02-10). "Until his dying day, Wilt was invincible". http://espn.go.com/nba/news/1999/1012/110842.html. 
  36. espn.com (2007-02-10). "Reaction to a basketball legend’s death". http://espn.go.com/nba/news/1999/1012/110738.html. 
  37. 37.0 37.1 nba.com (2007-02-14). "Wilt Scores 100!". http://espn.go.com/nba/columns/lawrence_mitch/110858.html. 
  38. The Leaping Legends of Basketball, The Los Angeles Times; Feb 12, 1989; Scott Ostler

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