Friends, Family Recall Wilt's Humor

 LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain, who the public knew for scoring 100 points in a single game, was remembered by friends and family more for his curiosity, intellect and quiet generosity. Laughter punctuated the 1{-hour memorial service Saturday at City of Angels Church of Religious Science, where about 800 people celebrated his life.


 Chamberlain died Tuesday of apparent heart failure. He was 63. His body was cremated.  ``In Wilt's life, there were no sad songs. He lived his to the fullest, '' said Meadowlark Lemon, a Chamberlain teammate on the Harlem Globetrotters. Others attending included Bill Russell, whose Boston Celtics teams twice beat Chamberlain's teams in the NBA finals; Alex Hannum, who coached Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers to the NBA title in 1967; NBA greats Elgin Baylor, Connie Hawkins, Bob Lanier, Nate Thurmond, Bill Walton and Jerry West.


 Russell, also a Hall of Fame center, recalled his intense showdowns with Chamberlain, who was 3 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier. Although Russell's Celtics had a 29-20 edge in regular-season games, Chamberlain averaged 25.7 points and 28 rebounds to Russell's 14.9 points and 24.7 rebounds.  ``He sent me through hell so many nights, but it was not a rivalry,  it was a competition,'' Russell said. ''


 As we got older, the more we liked each other because we knew, basically, we were joined at the hips. ... I knew how good he was and he knew that I knew how good he was,'' Russell said, drawing laughter. ``I'll just say that as far as I'm concerned, he and I will be friends through eternity.''


 Two photos graced the church's stage: the famous black and white shot of the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain holding a piece of paper with ``100' ' on it after he scored that many points in a game and a color photo of him smiling in his Los Angeles Lakers jersey.


 Only one speaker made a passing reference to Chamberlain's incredible statistics, including the 100-point game, the 55-rebound game (against Russell) and the five seasons averaging at least 40 points. Most of the memories focused on Chamberlain off the court, including his habit of phoning friends and family at 3 a.m. to quiz them about geography or history. ``He didn't want to be a basketball player, he wanted to be the man for all seasons, and I think he was,'' said Sy Goldberg, Chamberlain' s attorney and friend of 40 years.


 Goldberg said Chamberlain's tough exterior hid a softer side.  ``He would give money to almost anyone who needed it,'' Goldberg said. ``The important thing was you were to keep your mouth shut about it. No one could publicize his philanthropy.''


 David Shaw co-wrote Chamberlain's first autobiography, which Chamberlain insisted on titling: ``Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire who Lives Next Door.''  Shaw recalled being with Chamberlain and three others 20 years ago

in a boat that pulled up 4 feet short of the dock on the San Francisco Bay. Chamberlain planted his left foot on the dock, his right foot in the boat and lifted his four companions like sacks of flour.  ``What I remembered most was not the feat of strength, but the determination to overcome any obstacle, the determination to help his friends and his ability to laugh at the absurdity of any situation,'' Shaw said.


 Chamberlain, nicknamed ``Stilt'' and ``The Big Dipper'' during his career, loved to talk and friends often found themselves doing most of the listening. ``I imagine he's up in heaven now right next to the other Big Dipper looking God straight in the eye -- somebody bigger than him finally -- making some outlandish statement or other,'' Shaw said.


 After retiring from the NBA, Chamberlain played volleyball and ran marathons. He wrote books, did some acting and honed his investment abilities.  ``He was so busy doing, I'm not surprised he had a tired heart,''

 said Barbara O. Lewis, one of Chamberlain's four sisters. She recalled Chamberlain as a 5-year-old sneaking outside at 5 a.m. in his native Philadelphia to help the men who delivered ice and milk.


 When his mother asked what he was doing, Chamberlain replied, ``I' m strong, Mom, and I'm smart. I'm going to make me a lot of money one day and I can't stay in the bed. I got things I got to do.''


Copyright 1999 The Associated Press All Rights Reserved

BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer, Friends, Family Recall Wilt's Humor. , AP Online, 10-18-1999.