Wilton Norman Chamberlain, commonly known as Wilt Chamberlain (August 21, 1936 Ė October 12, 1999) was a former National Basketball Association basketball player. Known as Wilt the Stilt (a nickname he hated) or The Big Dipper, he is regarded as one of the greatest and most dominant basketball players of all time for the incredible statistical achievements he attained throughout his playing career.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chamberlain drew national attention playing at Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia. Wilt played two years for the University of Kansas (freshmen were ineligible at the time), where he earned All-American honors twice and led the Jayhawks to the 1957 championship game (which they lost to North Carolina 54-53 in three overtimes).
After a frustrating junior year in which Kansas did not even reach the NCAA Tournament (at the time, teams that had lost their league championship were denied admission), he decided to turn pro, citing that he wanted to be paid for being double and triple teamed every night. The Philadelphia Warriors owned his NBA rights, having picked him in 1955 as a territorial pick. However, he wasn't eligible to play in the NBA until his college class graduated in 1959. He played a season with the Harlem Globetrotters until finally becoming eligible to join the Warriors. He was listed as the third pick in the NBA draft but was actually a territorial pick.
In his first year with the Warriors (1960), Chamberlain lead the league in scoring, with 37.6 points per game, and rebounding, with 27 rebounds per game. He became the first of two players to be named MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season; in 1969 this feat would again be achieved by Wes Unseld. The Warriors lost to the Boston Celtics in the Conference Finals that year, which would be an ongoing occurrence in Chamberlain's career.
The fact that the Celtics were in the same Eastern Division as the Warriors meant that Chamberlain and Co. could not even reach the NBA Finals without finding a way to beat the Celtics. His rookie year was the first of the Celtics' record eight straight NBA titles.
In 1963 the Warriors had relocated to San Francisco and in 1964 Chamberlain and San Francisco Warriors lost to the Celtics in the NBA Finals. After that season, Chamberlain was traded back to Philadelphia, where the Syracuse Nationals had recently moved to become the 76ers.
Back in the Eastern Division, Wilt was blocked from an appearance in the finals by the Celtics on-going dynasty. The Eastern Conference Finals that year came down to the final seconds of Game 7, and the Celtics won by one point with a legendary play: when the 76ers' Hal Greer attempted to get the ball inbounds, John Havlicek stole it to preserve the Celtic lead. Celtics commentator Johnny Most shout Havlicek stole the ball! has become one of the hallmark scenes of the Celtics.
Chamberlain was the centerpiece of the Sixers team that finally beat the Celtics dynasty in 1967, winning a then-record 68 games en route to the NBA title.
Only two years later, Wilt was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. He was paired with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West, creating one of the most lethal scoring machines of all time. They were heavily favoured to win the 1969 NBA Finals against the old, battered Boston Celtics, but then, Chamberlain became the victim of one of the arguably most bone-headed coaching decisions in NBA history. In Game 7, Wilt hurt his leg with six minutes left to play and the Lakers trailing by nine points. Lakers' coach Bill Van Breda Kolff took him out, and when Chamberlain wanted to come in with three minutes left, Van Breda Kolff decided to bench him until the end. The Celtics won 108-106.
The bitter thing about this gaffe was the fact that Chamberlain was branded as a scapegoat and a quitter, as it was falsely assumed that Wilt had chickened out of "crunch time". Even Bill Russell ridiculed him, almost causing Chamberlain to end his friendship. However, Wilt's teammate Jerry West heard of Van Breda Kolff's decision, was utterly disgusted and passionately defended Wilt.
Chamberlain and West would win their first and only Lakers title in 1972, notably in the first season without the perennially unlucky Elgin Baylor. Wilt was instrumental in setting a new record for most victories in a season (69), as well as that team's 33-game winning streak, the longest such streak in any American professional sport. Chamberlain, however, was not that impressed in the first place. "I played with the Harlem Globetrotters and we won 445 in a row," he said at the time. "And they were all on the road."
In 1973, the San Diego Conquistadors of the American Basketball Association offered Chamberlain a $600,000 contract as player-coach, and Chamberlain accepted. The Conquistadors quickly circulated publicity photos of Chamberlain in a Conquistadors uniform holding an ABA ball. The Lakers sued to keep Chamberlain off the court, and he never played another game. Chamberlain did coach the Conquistadors in that season and he played on the court in practices and scrimmages with the team.
The 7-foot 1-inch (2.16 m) Chamberlain holds nearly 100 NBA records, including the record for most points in a game -- 100 -- well before the NBA adopted the three-point field goal line.
Going into the 1961-62 season, the NBA record for most points in a single game was held by Elgin Baylor of the Lakers, with 71 points. On December 8, 1961, Chamberlain and the Warriors played Baylor and the Lakers. In that game, Chamberlain scored 78 points, breaking Baylor's record. However, the game had gone into triple overtime. Legendary Laker broadcaster "Chick" Hearn often told the story that he asked Baylor after the game whether Baylor was bothered that he'd lost the record in that manner, with Chamberlain having had 15 extra minutes of game time to score the points he needed to reach and then surpass Baylor's previous-record 71. According to Hearn, Baylor replied that he wasn't bothered by it because "one day, that guy is going to score 100."
Indeed, not three months later, on March 2, 1962, in a 169-147 victory over the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single game--no overtime periods necessary. In fact, it is reported that Chamberlain scored the pivotal basket with still 46 seconds remaining in the game, but there was nothing that could be done to stop the relatively small crowd from completely mobbing the floor. Unfortunately, there exists no video footage of this phenomenal accomplishment because the game was not televised, although there is audio as the game was broadcast over the radio.
Chamberlain's statline from this game was 36-of-63 on field goals and 28-of-32 on free throws, remarkable because Chamberlain barely made half of his free throws during his career. Note that in that time, the three-point line had not been invented yet.
Very remarkably, Wilt himself was initially embarrassed by these stats, as he was ashamed that he took 63 field goal attempts and making "only" 36.
The game was somewhat controversial because, by all acounts, during the fourth quarter both teams ceased playing a normal game in which each each team has the goal of winning the game, and the game play became entirely about whether Chamberlain would score 100 points. Rather than trying to score quickly, as a trailing team would normally do in hopes of mounting a come back, the Knicks began holding the ball attempting to run out the clock. Some say the Knicks began fouling Chamberlain intentionally so that he would have to shoot free throws rather that get closer shots at the basket, and that they would also intentionally foul other Warrior players when those other players had the ball, so that they wouldn't have a chance to pass it to Chamberlain. As for their part, the Warriors also began fouling Knicks players intentionally so that the Warriors could stop the clock--again the exact opposite of the strategy usually employed by the team that is winning--and get the ball back to get it to Chamberlain.
Chamberlain's 78-point triple overtime game against the Lakers still stands as the second-highest single game point total. The current record for players other than Chamberlain is 73, set by David Thompson in 1978.
Wilt's impact on the game is also reflected in the fact that his jersey got retired a whopping four times. As of 2006, following teams have retired his number 13:
One of the most controversial topics under basketball fans is the question whether Chamberlain is the best player ever. His incredible statistics are unreached, but the great argument against Wilt is that he "only" won two titles. So, there are several players who arguably rival Wilt for the title of greatest basketballer of all time:
Wilt himself stated in his book Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door: "Iím just not naturally competitive and aggressive. I donít have a killer instinct". (page 187) This was painfully evident in one case, namely the 1970 NBA Finals Game 7, famous for Knicks center Willis Reed hobbling up court with only one intact thigh. Instead of literally annihilating Reed by dropping 50-60 points on him, Chamberlain held back, scoring only 21 points.
However, Chamberlain has several arguments who support him. In his prime, Wilt was so dominant (and strangely reviled, much in contrast to Michael Jordan), that the NBA actually changed the rules to stop Chamberlain, including outlawing the inbounds pass over the backboard and dunking from the foul line.
Celtics forward Tom Heinsohn confessed that his team used dirty tricks to stop him, by abusing him with a flurry of hard fouls, wearing him down and exploiting his only weakness (weak foul shooting) by an early version of the Hack-a-Shaq. Considering that that Celtics team featured seven Hall of Famers at times, and still had to resort to these tactics to stop one player, says a lot.
In direct comparison, he was much more allround than Russell (who was not regarded as an offensive specialist) and was simply more dominant than all other players, even including Michael Jordan. In his prime, nobody could stop him, on both ends of the court. Even Bill Russell, the best defensive player of all time, could only slow him down to a level that Wilt "only" scored an average 28.7 PPG and 28.7 RPG against him.
Wilt's offensive power was unmatched, and defensively, he claimed two All-NBA Defensive First Team spots, notably at the age of 36 and 37 (!). Generally, Wilt receives his fair share of votes in the so-called "GOAT argument", and it is generally agreed that Wilt was maybe not the best, but for sure, he was the most dominant player the game ever produced.
His battles with center Bill Russell were legendary; they were fierce competitors on the court, yet were close personal friends off the hardwood. Wilt also earned accolades for other sports, including track and field (in which he ran the 100-yard dash in 10.9 seconds in high school), volleyball (he founded and starred in a pro league) and auto racing, among others. He flirted with boxing, and was offered a pro football contract by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1966. He also was an actor, celebrity and businessman after his playing career concluded. In 1984, he co-starred (along with future Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Conan the Destroyer.
Chamberlain always wore a rubber band around his wrist, due to a superstition, and was fond of saying that "Nobody roots for Goliath."
He authored four books before his death on October 12, 1999, including an autobiography, A View from Above, in which he controversially claimed to have had sex with almost 20,000 women ó this would have averaged 1.2 women per day from age 15 until his death. Many people doubted his specific number, though few questioned the fact of wild sexual behavior. He drew heavy criticism from many public figures, who accused him of fulfilling stereotypes about African Americans, and of behaving irresponsibly (especially given the AIDS crisis, which was well underway by the 1980s, when many of the conquests were made). Chamberlain defended himself, saying "I was just doing what was natural ó chasing good-looking ladies, whoever they were and wherever they were available". He also noted that he never tried to sleep with a woman who was married.
Wilt Chamberlain died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his sleep in his Los Angeles, California home. He was 63 years old.