NBA REMEMBERS WILT
By JOHN BRENNAN, Staff Writer, Date: 10-13-1999, Wednesday 

ALBANY, N.Y. -- It's been nearly 35 years since Willis Reed first matched up against the incomparable Wilt Chamberlain.

 

But Tuesday, Reed recalled the moment as if it were yesterday. "Wilt was with San Francisco then, and we played a close game and ended up losing," said Reed, who played his entire career with the Knicks from 1964-73.

 

"After the game, I looked [at the statistics sheet] and saw that I had scored 32 points against him, and I was really fired up. Then finally I looked down at his number -- and he had 56!" the Nets executive recalled at Pepsi Arena an hour before his team's preseason game against the Atlanta Hawks.

 

Those kinds of games were commonplace for Chamberlain, who averaged more than 30 points for each of his first seven seasons from 1959- 66. Reed and Bill Russell became Hall of Famers, but even they had their hands full against "the Big Dipper."

 

Chamberlain was found dead Tuesday at his home in California. The Philadelphia native was 63. "He was such a tremendous athlete," said Reed, who added that there was "no question" that Chamberlain was the strongest opponent he ever faced. "I used to think that he'd just see things in the record book that nobody had ever done, then go out and try to do that."

 

Nets general manager John Nash, a Philadelphia native who recalls Chamberlain's exploits since he was a youth more than 40 years ago, once tried to take advantage of that flamboyant side of Chamberlain. As general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers, Nash said he tried to get Chamberlain to play for the team both in the middle and at the end of the 1989-90 season, so that Chamberlain could say that he had played in the NBA in five decades. There also were overtures earlier in the 1980s from the Nets and the Cavaliers.

 

And although Chamberlain would have been about 50 at the time, Nash didn't think he would have embarrassed himself.

"Actually, we felt that Wilt would have been able to accord himself as well as whoever was playing backup for us at that time," said Nash, who added that Sixers owner Harold Katz also flew to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s to try to talk Chamberlain into launching a comeback.

 

Reed said he never scoffed at the many rumored Chamberlain comebacks. "One thing I never would do is bet against him. He always did keep himself in great shape," said Reed, who was "shocked" at the news of Chamberlain's death because he had just seen Chamberlain in June at a tribute for Russell in Boston. "He was a big, strong personality who

always was determined to do things."

 

Nash recalled that Chamberlain at various times talked about playing Olympic volleyball, taking up professional boxing, and becoming an NFL tight end. "The truth is, he was so physically dominant, who was going to tell him he couldn't?" asked Nash.

 

Hawks coach Lenny Wilkens played against Chamberlain from 1960-73, finishing just behind Chamberlain the year that the Big Dipper amazed fans by leading the league in assists (1967-68). "Wilt always had tremendous pride in his accomplishments. I thought he was a genius," said Wilkens. "I know sometimes people accused him of not putting out full effort, but I never saw a game where he didn' t."

 

Reed and Wilkens said that while Russell indeed was a better defensive player than Chamberlain, it's not fair to say that comparing Russell's 11 NBA titles to Chamberlain's two is indicative of the disparity in performance. "Wilt said one time that he would have liked to have seen what happened if he had the same team [as Russell had with the Boston

Celtics]. I think we all would have liked to have seen what happened then," said Wilkens.

 

Hawks assistant coach Stan Albeck was an assistant to Chamberlain in his lone foray into head coaching, the 1973-74 job with the American Basketball Association's San Diego Conquistadors. Albeck said that while Chamberlain was not much for the technical aspects of coaching, he delighted in Chamberlain's appreciation for the ABA style. "He was so enamored of the three-point play. It's funny. He couldn't make a free throw, but he liked that shot. He used to say, `Hell, why didn't we have that [in the NBA?],'" said Albeck.

 

The 1966-67 NBA champion 76ers are considered by many to be the greatest team ever, and Nash said he used to enjoy getting together with former Sixers Matt Guokas and Billy Cunningham to talk about their legendary teammate from that season. "The conversation invariably would come back to Wilt, and when they talked about him, even they were in awe of him. So it was easy to understand how fans could be in awe of this guy, too," said Nash. "He was superhuman."

 

 

THE MAN, THE LEGEND

The Associated Press

 

"Wilt was one of the greatest ever, and we will never see another one like him." -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who broke a Chamberlain record to become the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

 

* * *

 

"When I started to play with him, he helped make me a better player. We seemed to have a real good feel together, I think it translated into a confidence with him. All players are generally judged by the number of championships they won. Unfortunately, he only won two. His greatness as a basketball player can't be questioned. He was fun. We used to laugh

at him a lot, some of the things that would happen. I once told him, no one roots for Goliath." -- Jerry West, former teammate and current Lakers vice president.

 

* * *

 

"As I grew up, Wilt the Stilt was THE player. Just the things he was able to do. I guess one year they told him he couldn't make as much money as he wanted because he couldn't pass the ball, so he went out and led the league in assists. Watching Wilt, you always kind of got the idea he was just playing with people. That he was on cruise control and

still 10 times better than anybody else that was playing at that time."

 

-- Denver Nuggets coach Dan Issel.

 

* * *

 

"Obviously, he was both literally and figuratively a larger-than-life sports figure of the 20th century. He dominated his

  sport like almost no one else." -- Atlanta Hawks president Stan Kasten.

 

 

* * *

 

"He was the NBA. He was the guy on the top. Wilt was the guy you talked about -- he and Bill Russell. He was the most dominating center -- the best center to ever play in the NBA." -- Former NBA center and Bulls coach Johnny "Red" Kerr, who played part of one season in Philadelphia with Wilt and against him for six-plus years.

 

* * *

 

"He was always a person that I viewed as being bigger than life in more ways than one. I had recently heard through friends and associates that he hadn't been feeling well, but again, I felt Wilt was a person who was able to overcome anything, so I was totally shocked to hear of his death." -- Newark native Al Attles, former teammate with the Warriors

and now a team executive.

 

* * *

 

"Wilt Chamberlain had a great deal to do with the success of the NBA. His dominance, power, demeanor, and the rivalry with Bill Russell says it all. He will be sorely missed by myself and everyone in the basketball community. Wilt was a great performer and a great athlete."

 --

Boston Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

 

* * *

 

"He was a terrific guy. It is a great loss to the sports world. Wilt Chamberlain had a special place in basketball history and he will be missed. We had many battles with Wilt. He was a fun guy to be around; he was a `Gentle Giant.' " --Celtics great and Hall of Famer Tom Heinsohn of Union City.

 

* * *

 

"I spent 12 years in his armpits, and I always carried that 100-point game on my shoulders. After I got my third foul, I said

to one of the officials, Willy Smith, `Why don't you just give him 100 points and we'll all go home?' Well, we did." -- Darrall Imhoff, who as a 6-foot-10 rookie center for the Knicks guarded Chamberlain during his 100-point game.

 

* * *

 

"We've lost a giant of a man in every sense of the word. The shadow of accomplishment he cast over our game is unlikely ever to be matched." -- NBA commissioner David Stern.

 

* * *

 

"It's a shock to all of us in the basketball community. This is a guy whose impact changed the rules of the game. . . . He changed the interior part of our basketball game." -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

   

 

Copyright 1999 Bergen Record Corp.  All rights reserved.

JOHN BRENNAN, Staff Writer, NBA REMEMBERS WILT. , The Record (Bergen County, NJ), 10-13-1999, pp s08.