A Real Life Giant

Posted on Sun 08/10/2008 by


Wilt Chamberlain. Click on image to open in a larger window.


This is a famous image and the only one of a point in sports history that will last forever.

I’m a sports nut, so now the Olympic Games are on I can get two solid weeks of it, probably something that my good lady wife is probably not looking forward to. She likes the swimming. I just love it all.
Earlier on in posts, I mentioned that I played a lot of sports in my younger days. Cricket was my strength and I played that sport at a relatively high level, but I also played other sports as well. During the Winters I played Australian Rules football in competition for three years, but was only ever an average plodder. I had some good games, but I was posted with the Air Force to bases where that winter sport was not really played much, so I just went on to golf in the Winter, and played tennis and squash to keep my fitness levels up. I also played other sports both versions of Rugby, and one game of soccer. I also played a few games of basketball, but again I was really average at that too.
However, Not being able to play at a top level, I still had favourite teams that I followed. With some high level sports, sometimes followers change their allegiance in following teams, and some stay as a supporter of those teams for life, through winning seasons, and those when the team has a losing time as well.

Here in Australia, I support football teams in two of the major codes that are different. For the Rugby League I follow the St George Dragons, and in the Australian Rules I follow Collingwood, the famous Magpies, and my father told me once that team was the first I showed any allegiance to, and he mentioned that I started to support them long before I became aware of even doing it. I’ve followed them now for nearly 50 years that I can actually remember. In that time they have only won the Premiership twice, in 1958, and 1990, and that year of 1990 was almost a relief for me. They have lost that grand final game 11 times, so I always felt sort of resigned to the fact that I might not actually see them win another flag, because after so loudly following them for so long, it was always a case of, “Tony, poor guy, he barracks for Collingwood.” For a club with such a great tradition, returns have been pretty rare in my adulthood. I sort of hoped to live long enough to see Collingwood win the flag, so 1990 was a really good year.

I also have an interest in some US sporting teams as well. What intrigued me most was the way some teams are named. Here in Australia they name the teams usually after birds or animals. Some have other names, and have started to adopt the US style of naming their teams. Here in Australia, and especially in Australian Rules, the teams were named after the suburbs of the largest city where that sport was biggest, Melbourne, and if you lived in that suburb you followed that team, and the main naming centred around the name of the suburb itself. Now that the game has become Australia wide, hence Collingwood. Now the game is Australia wide so they are mainly known as The Magpies.

In the US I have always followed The Cowboys, for no particular reason I suppose. I first heard of them as a young boy, and, well, young boys and cowboys, so it sort of stuck I could never really understand the game, especially the stop start nature of the game, when here in Australia, the game goes flat out with no stopping for the four of the twenty five minute quarters, only stopping at the end of that 25 minute period.
Once I understood how the US football game was played, and that took years, because we didn’t get much coverage of the game here in Australia, perhaps that one big game of the year, I liked the sport with a renewed interest. I still followed The Cowboys but I loved the name of some of the teams, especially the Green Bay Packers.
I also followed your Baseball and Basketball, and for those sports I picked two LA teams, the Dodgers and the Lakers, again mainly for the mystique behind the names.
At a later date I found that both those teams started life in other places and then moved to LA, something I also found later that was prevalent in the US across most sports.
I loved the Dodgers because of where their name came from. The Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers. Now there’s a name.
The Lakers started out as the Minneapolis Lakers, again another name that evokes thoughts not really related to sports.

Another thing that escaped me in my youth was the propensity in the US to give sports stars evocative names, and I could never quite understand how one famous boxer had parents thoughtless enough to name their son ‘Sugar’ as in ‘Sugar Ray’. I guess as a young boy, things come to you a little more slowly that they do as you age.

So the names of the teams and their stars fascinated me more than the sports themselves, and as I learned to fully understand each of the sports, I followed them more closely.
Being a follower of the Lakers, I found out about some of the players and I had favourites players I followed, Magic Johnson, and Kareem among them, both starting life without those famous names attached to them. One that fascinated me I later went on to read about was the guy they called ‘The Stilt’.


Wilt Chamberlain I suppose was the Kobe Bryant of his era, and he only played 5 seasons for the Lakers, but he is most remembered for a game he played while a member of the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks in Hershey PA on March 2 1962.

Prior to the late season game with nothing riding on it, Chamberlain had had a long night, and he was hung over when he boarded the train for Hershey. The game meant virtually nothing and some of the players were more interested in seeing the famed Chocolate factory than playing in the upcoming game, and Chamberlain almost missed the bus that was to take them to the game.

Barely 4000 fans paid to watch the game, mostly because the Philadelphia Eagles football team played an exhibition game against members from the Baltimore Colts prior to the NBA game.
The game started as not really meaning much, and Chamberlain was his usual dominant self playing as he did in the Centre. At quarter time Wilt had 23 points and at the half he had 41. This was no big deal to him, as he had scored 60 point games 32 times. (Gee, It’s hard to even think like that these days.) Coach Frank McGuire told his players that Chamberlain was always open so just feed him the ball, which they did. Part way through the third quarter the crowd sensed something was happening, and the announcer whipped them up with each Chamberlain touch. At the three quarter Wilt had 69 points and he started to sense he might be able to break his record of 78 points, something he had achieved once in a double overtime game. He was double triple and quad teamed and the Knicks weren’t worried about hard fouling him either in an effort to stem his scoring, finger rolls, jumps and hooks. Fouling also was a tactic because Chamberlain was not particularly good from the free throw stripe.
With just on 8 minutes still to play, Chamberlain broke his record and now the announcer, and the crowd were going wild.

The Knicks were pretty desperate now and teamed all 5 players against Wilt, and then used the ploy of fouling the other team members thinking if the ball was being continually inbounded, there was less chance of getting the ball to Chamberlain. The thinking from the Knicks was one of what could turn into absolute humiliation, not with the end score, but the score from just this one guy. Coach McGuire pulled off the starting 5 save Chamberlain, and sent in the bench, and both teams just fouled each other with every touch. It was a case of get the ball and just throw it at Chamberlain at all costs. He gradually increased the total, and with two and a half minutes left his personal tally stood at 94. He had a jump shot and a layup for 98 with less than a minute to go. Chamberlain just trotted along to the low post and waited for the next pass to arrive. He missed with two shots and with only 46 seconds left on the clock, he received a high pass and, getting free from the 5 Knicks teamed on him, he slammed home the dunk, in what is now called an ‘alley oop’. I might guess his feeling at that time would have been of absolute elation, but I can’t help feeling it might also have been one of absolute sheer and utter relief. At actually getting there. If he hadn’t have, he’d have gone his whole life thinking, ‘so close’. The remaining 46 seconds of the game descended into farce. Wilt just stood in the centre circle with his arms in the air.
The final score of 169 – 147 was all but incidental.
Wilt The Stilt Chamberlain had scored 100 points in a regular season NBA game, something no one had done before, and something that in all probability will never be broken. He scored his 100 points long before the three point shot came into the game.

That overall points total record stood for 20 years, when, in 1982, the Spurs beat the Bucks in triple OT, well into the three point era.

The game meant little, was only covered locally by radio so there is no TV footage at all. Someone scribbled the number 100 on a piece of paper and there is that famous photo of Chamberlain sitting on the bench holding that piece of paper. The photographer was not even there in an official capacity, but just taking his son to a game.
Of those 4000 people who saw the game, that number has increased over the years and now 40,000 people claim to have seen the game, and some even say it was at the Madison Square Gardens.

This was a night when a seven foot one inch basketball player became an even larger giant.
Sadly, Wilt Chamberlain is no longer with us, passing away in 1999, aged 63.
The legend of ‘The Big Dipper’ will live forever.