No. 13: Wilt Chamberlain
A revoluntionary force
By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com
"If you win, everybody says, 'Well, look at him, he's that big.' If you lose, everybody says, 'How could he lose, a guy that size?' I think it confused him. He would have been better in an individual sport. He'd have been much better just competing for himself," says author Frank Deford about Wilt Chamberlain on ESPN's SportsCentury show (Friday, Oct. 29, 10:30 p.m. ET).
Chamberlain, who scored 100 points in one game and grabbed 55 rebounds in another, was voted No. 13 among North American athletes of the 20th century by SportsCentury's distinguished 48-person panel.
March 2, 1962 -- In a season in which Chamberlain averaged a mind-boggling 50.4 points, the third-year center of the Philadelphia Warriors added to his growing legend by becoming the only player to score three digits in an NBA game. "It's a record I'd hate to try to break myself," he said.
Perhaps more amazing than the 100 points was that Wilt, a notoriously poor foul shooter, made 28-of-32 free throws in the 169-147 victory over the Knicks in Hershey, Pa. "After putting in my first nine free throws I was thinking about a foul-shooting record," he said. "But 100 points, I had no idea of doing anything like that."
By the second half, he was. With his teammates feeding him, he set a still-standing record for field goal attempts in a half (37) and also broke the mark for most attempts in a quarter with 21 in the fourth period.
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 made 36-of-63 field-goal attempts (both records) in breaking his own NBA mark of 78 points, set earlier this season in triple overtime.
Points 95 and 96 came off one of Guy Rodgers' 20 assists, 97 and 98 off a feed from York Larese. After missing two shots, he took a pass from Joe Ruklick and dunked to reach the century mark. Despite 46 seconds being left in the game, many in the crowd of 4,124 swarmed the court to mob him.
For one night at least, Goliath was a hero.
Odds and ends Wilt averaged 37.4 points as Overbrook High School in Philadelphia went 56-3 in his three seasons.
In 1955, he scored 42 points and grabbed 29 rebounds to lead the Kansas freshmen past the KU varsity, 81-71. It was the first time in a series begun in 1923 that the freshmen won.
In the 1957 NCAA final in Kansas City against top-ranked and unbeaten North Carolina, Kansas was a seven-point favorite even though it was ranked No. 2. The Jayhawks lost, 54-53, in triple overtime.
By the time Wilt was 21, he already had been featured in four national magazines - Life, Time, Look and Newsweek.
When Wilt scored 78 points (still the second highest game in NBA history) on Dec. 8, 1961, 25 came in the three overtimes.
Wilt is the only player to attempt at least 15 shots in a game and make them all. He did it three times within a two-month period in 1967 - going 18-for-18, 16-for-16 and 15-for-15.
He holds the record for most consecutive field goals without a miss - 35, set in February 1967.
In the 1967-68 season, Chamberlain became the only center to ever lead the NBA in assists with 702, 23 more than Lenny Wilkens.
In Game 7 of the 1969 Finals, Chamberlain's last game against Bill Russell, Wilt twisted his right knee with 5½ minutes left and was soon replaced. Chamberlain said he wanted to return, but that Lakers coach Butch van Breda Kolff wouldn't put him back in. The Celtics won the title, but Chamberlain's injury left a sour taste with Russell, who criticized Wilt for removing himself.
For years, this put a wedge in their friendship before they patched things up.
At Wilt's funeral, Russell eulogized, "He and I will be friends forever."
In their storied rivalry, Chamberlain had better stats than Russell. In the regular season, Wilt outscored him 30 to 14.2 per game and outrebounded him 28.2 to 22.9; in the playoffs, he outscored him 25.7 to 14.9 and outrebounded him 28 to 24.7. But Russell's Celtics went 57-37 in the regular season against Wilt's teams and 29-20 in the playoffs (when Boston won seven of the eight series).
When they played simultaneously, Russell earned nine championship rings to Wilt's one.
In 1971, negotiations were underway for Chamberlain to fight Muhammad Ali, but Wilt backed out.
After spraining his right wrist in Game 4 of the 1972 Finals against the Knicks, Chamberlain was shot with an anti-inflammatory. Wearing a padded hand wrap that interior football linemen wear, Chamberlain scored 24 points and had 29 rebounds as the Lakers won their first title in L.A. Wilt was named Finals MVP.
Chamberlain led the NBA in field-goal percentage a record nine times, with his .727 (1972-73) and .683 (1966-67) being the two best all-time. He shot .540 for his career.
In his last season (1972-73), Wilt averaged only 7.1 shots a game. In 1961-62, he averaged more than that a quarter, taking 39.5 field-goal attempts a game.
Only once did Chamberlain shoot higher than 60 percent from the foul line (.613 in 1961-62). During his career, Wilt became worse as a foul shooter: His percentage was .568 (3,143-for-5,537) in his first five seasons and .461 (2,914-for-6,325) in his last nine years.
Countless suggestions were offered to Wilt and he tried underhanded, one-handed, two-handed, from the side of the circle and from well behind the line.
A .511 career foul shooter in the regular season, Chamberlain was even worse in the playoffs at .465.
In his 13 All-Star appearances, he averaged 15.2 points and 14.7 rebounds in 29.8 minutes. He won one All-Star Game MVP, as a rookie in 1960 when he scored 23 points and grabbed 25 rebounds in a 125-115 East victory.
After Wilt became coach of the San Diego Conquistados of the ABA in 1973, former Laker teammate Elgin Baylor said, "I don't think he can coach. He never had any discipline."
As the villain in "Conan the Destroyer" in 1984, Wilt received third billing behind Arnold Schwarzenegger and Grace Jones.