Friday, March 2, 2012


Wilt’s wonder: KU legend’s 100-point game turns 50 years old

In this file photo from March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors holds a sign reading “100” in the dressing room in Hershey, Pa., after he scored 100 points as the Warriors defeated the New York Knickerbockers, 169-147.

In this file photo from March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors holds a sign reading “100” in the dressing room in Hershey, Pa., after he scored 100 points as the Warriors defeated the New York Knickerbockers, 169-147.


Fifty years ago today, Joe Ruklick sat comfortably courtside in warmups, watching his friend Wilt Chamberlain play the greatest game in the greatest season ever produced by a basketball player.

What happened next startled Ruklick.

“I am cold as ice and I see our coach, Frank McGuire, peek out from the huddle and wave me to the scorer’s table,” Ruklick said by phone. “I’m thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to do but kick the ball out of bounds at a bad moment?’ I take the warmup off and go into the game.”

As it turned out, Ruklick, 73, cemented a spot in sports history by getting the assist on Chamberlain’s 99th and 100th points in the Philadelphia Warriors’ 169-147 victory over the New York Knickerbockers. Years later, Chamberlain solved the mystery of why McGuire called Ruklick’s number.

“Wilt told me, ‘I told Frank to put you into the game,’ ” Ruklick said.


“We had some guys on the team who weren’t eager to see Wilt score a hundred,” Ruklick said. “Wilt knew I wouldn’t take a shot, or miss him if he were open. Our friendship was a good one.”

And why weren’t all the players eager to see Chamberlain reach the milestone? Because he was black?

“Because he was black,” Ruklick echoed. “It was terrible the way black players were treated in the NBA then. It started getting better by 1963, 1964.”

The thick-skinned Chamberlain, Ruklick said, handled the slights well.

The two men first met on the Kansas University campus, when the opposing centers were brought together for a photograph the day before Wilt’s varsity debut as a sophomore against Northwestern in Allen Fieldhouse.

“I looked at him and I said, ‘Wilt, I want to apologize to you,’ ” Ruklick remembered. “The reason I said that to him was because in the summer of 1955, at the old North-South high school basketball game in Murray, Ky., I was picked as prep All-American center and Wilt wasn’t there. He wasn’t invited. No black guys. I told him, ‘I stood there with four other guys and stood in your place, Wilt.’”

Chamberlain’s response — “Don’t even think about it, man. You earned it.” — made a first impression on Ruklick that he never second-guessed.

“From that point on, I realized Wilt Chamberlain was made of great stuff,” Ruklick said. “He was strong in many ways.”

The day after that meeting, Chamberlain made his debut in a way that to this day echoes in Allen Fieldhouse.

“What he did to me in Lawrence, I still need psychiatric help with it,” Ruklick said. “I held him to 52 points.”

It remains a KU single-game scoring record.

The next year, Northwestern played a zone defense and held Chamberlain to 27 points, “and we almost beat the Jayhawks.” No slouch himself, Ruklick remembered scoring 22 points against KU in Lawrence, 27 in Evanston, Ill., where the former Northwestern center lives in retirement. He witnessed Ohio State’s two-point victory against his Wildcats on Wednesday night.

Chamberlain invited Ruklick to be his guest at his 1998 jersey retirement in Allen Fieldhouse and told his former foe and then friend and teammate, “Man, I’m always glad to see you. I got 52 against you.”

Ruklick said Chamberlain sent the jersey he wore in the 52-point game to Ruklick’s son, John.

It was in their third season as teammates with the Philadelphia Warriors that Chamberlain scored his 100 points against the New York Knicks. No TV camera was there to record it.

Chamberlain, the Babe Ruth of basketball, had one hole in his swing. He never mastered the free throw. But on his 100-point night, he made 28 of 32 from the line and hit 36 of 63 field-goal attempts. In all the years since, Kobe Byrant is the closest anyone has come to Chamberlain’s mythical round number. Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.

Chamberlain averaged an unthinkable 50.4 points in 1961-62, so dominant performances became expected of him on a nightly basis.

“Did we expect him to score 100? No,” Ruklick said. “It came up kind of fast, suddenly. Everyone realized in the middle of the fourth quarter that he was getting kind of close.”

Ruklick confirmed look-back reports that state the Knicks began fouling other players before Chamberlain could get the ball, but said it was not accurate that the Warriors began fouling Knicks in order to get the ball back more quickly.

Ruklick’s historic assist came with 46 seconds remaining.

“The game went on and I got fouled,” Ruklick remembered. “I go to the free-throw line, I’m ready to take my shot and I yelled, ‘Hey, Wilt, I’m dumping,’ which meant I’m going to miss on purpose. The ref was Willie Smith, a short, fat, calm easy-going guy who drank beer with us. A good guy.”

A good guy and apparently not half bad as an actor.

“Willie says, ‘Hey Ruklick, I heard what you said. You’ll never play in another game. The record of this game will be taken out of the scorebook and the game will be forfeited to New York,’” Ruklick recounted. “Then he handed me the ball and started laughing. But for about five seconds I thought he was serious, and I almost flooded my jock.”

Ruklick proceeded to miss the free throw on purpose, but one of the Knicks, not Chamberlain got the rebound, which for the sake of symmetry, was a fortunate thing. The famous black-and-white photo of a smiling Wilt holding a white sheet of paper wouldn’t have looked quite as cool had the numbers on it read, “102.”

After that season, the Warriors moved to San Francisco, but Ruklick didn’t go with them and retired from basketball, even though he was told he had a roster spot.

“Eddie Gottlieb, a principal founder of the NBA and the owner of the Warriors looked at me and said, ‘Fans won’t buy tickets if you have too many Negroes on the team,’” Ruklick said. “I went home and told my wife he said that. She said, ‘You mean we’ll be moving to San Francisco because you’re white?’ I was making $8,000, plus $1,500 playoff money. What I saw in the way black guys were treated soured me on the NBA. We didn’t move to San Francisco.”

He turned from basketball player to basketball fan, rooting especially passionately for the guy who dropped 52 on him in 1956, the guy who, five-and-a-half years later, turned him into a footnote in basketball history.


Chris Shaw 9 years, 9 months ago

I was wondering if there was going to to be an article about this! Happy 50th Wilt! Single greatest individual performance in basketball history! Simply Remarkable!

ssargdons 9 years, 9 months ago

Gary Pomerantz, author of Wilt, 1962, speaks about Chamberlain's legendary 100-point game as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors. Friday, March 2 is the 50th anniversary of the Warriors win over the Knicks.

wrwlumpy 9 years, 9 months ago

Many basketball rules had to be changed because of him.

Alohahawk 9 years, 9 months ago

Remarkable perormance by a remarkable guy. Met him once in Honolulu. When I explained I had attended KU, he graciously shook my hand. And boy, were his hands huge.

I respect Kobe Bryant's game. He is a fantastic BBaller. However, his 81 points need to be put into perspective, because they were aided by the 3 point shot.

ParisHawk 9 years, 9 months ago

Perspective is more complicated than that. Were opposing players as good as today? Were teams as good at defense as today? With the pure man D at that time, how much was Wilt double-teamed?

On the other hand, did Wilt get as much help on offense as Kobe, who probably had 80 or so screens set for him?

I would think more people try to discount Wilt's numbers than Kobe's (or Jordan's). Opinions change, numbers don't.

april28 9 years, 9 months ago

Teams were far, far better then. I believe that there were only 8 teams in the league at that time. Imagine condensing the NBA to 8 teams today. Some of the so-called All-Stars wouldn't even be in the starting rotation of their own team.

MinnesotaJay 9 years, 9 months ago

One of's pages of the game's greatest moments is entitled 'Wilt Scores 100!' That page ( used to have a bunch of audio clips which are no longer there. I remember listening to one of them in which Wilt told an especially entertaining story.

His home was in New York, and that night after the game, he bummed a ride home with (I think) three of the Knicks players. Wilt fell asleep, and was in and out of sleep throughout the ride. But, he pretended to be asleep all the way, as the Knicks in the car were continually grumbling about how 'that S.O.B.' had hung 100 on them.

When they got to New York, they dropped him off at his home first. He got out of the car, and before they pulled away, he leaned into the front seat on the passenger side and said 'by the way, this S.O.B. thanks you for the ride.'

nicka 9 years, 9 months ago

"Kobe Byrant is the closest anyone has come to Chamberlain’s mythical round number."...I don't think it's still considered "mythical" if it really happened. Unicorns are mythical, keegs.

Kent Wells 9 years, 9 months ago

Disagree. One time, at band camp, I got busy with a Unicorn.

gardenjay 9 years, 9 months ago

Maybe it was a narwhal, but to be safe you should cut back on the fantasy fiction novels.

machinegun 9 years, 9 months ago

Wilt was the Greatest of the Great! Forgive them, the kids just don't get it.

wrwlumpy 9 years, 9 months ago

When Wilt finally came back to KU, he admitted to the crowd that he hadn't been back in 40 years. With his original Jayhawk lettermans jacket on and tears in his eyes he finished by telling the crowd, "The reason I haven't been able to make it back here is because of the 3 overtime National Championship game. I feel that I let all of you down." All of the field house was crying as they shouted loudly "NOOO...". After the game he signed autographs for every man, woman and child that wanted one for over 2 hours after the game.

He will always be the Jackie Robinson of college basketball.

Steve Brown 9 years, 9 months ago

Wilt standing in center court, tears cascading, and his "pal" Max with the microphone was a nice chance to say Wilt we miss you and we thank you.

Has to be one of the all time top ten moments in AFH. And there have been a couple ATMoments.

JD Roth 9 years, 9 months ago

Actually he finished by saying, "How sweet this is. I now see why all the tradition and with my jersey up there I'm a part of the tradition, Rock Chalk Jayhawk." Only player in NBA history to win rookie of the year and MVP the same year. Finished his rookie year averaging 37 points and 27 rebounds a game. Wilt is the greatest player of ALL TIME!!!

JD Roth 9 years, 9 months ago

Wilt also has the NBA record of consecutive made field goals at 35. Greatest of ALL TIME!! Chamberlain!!

Steve Gantz 9 years, 9 months ago

Wow! That's just as impressive as the 100 point game. His season average of 50 points and 20 rebounds a game is maybe more impressive than any other record.

FoCoCoHawk 9 years, 9 months ago

And Wilt never once fouled out of a game.

OnTheRoad 9 years, 9 months ago

Massive: In 1968-69, Wes Unseld of the Baltimore Bullets was rookie of the year and MVP.

9 years, 9 months ago

While I was not fortunate enough to attend this game, the national TV network broadcasting it did something you rarely see and showed Wilt’s halftime speech and presentation live. Very cool.

LAJayhawk 9 years, 9 months ago

And just in case anyone wants to try to dismiss him as one-dimensional, I'll throw this out there just to further prove he was a phenomenal, once-in-a-millennium type basketball player:

"He did more than score and rebound. To prove it, when he was with the Sixers, he led them the Sixers in assists in 1966-67 (7.8 per game) and 1967-68 (8.6 per game). In 1967-68, he led the league in total assists (702) and finished second to Oscar Robertson in assists per game.

He has the league's only 20-20-20 game - 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists, in the 76ers' Philadelphia's 131-121 victory against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 2, 1968."

20-20-20 game. Unreal.

Martin Rosenblum 9 years, 9 months ago

"The ref was Willie Smith, a short, fat, calm easy-going guy who drank beer with us. A good guy.”

Wow, those were the days! Black and white TVs, no remote controls, no cable or satellite, refs throwing some back with players, your own teamates not wanting you to make history because of your race. 50 years is not that far back, in retrospect.

Jayhawker111 9 years, 9 months ago

Before even reaching high school age the freakishly athletic Wilt Chamberlain is reported to have high jumped 6'6" which is a mark that would win most high school varsity track meets. Around the same time Wilt was also putting up ridiculously impressive broad jump numbers that are understood to be as far as 22 feet. For comparison purposes almost all high school track athletes can not reach 22 feet in a running long jump and Wit is reported to have reached that length from a stationary standing broad jump position. The high jumping and broad jumping talents are perhaps to be expected considering what the public now knows about his success on the basketball court, however the track and field prowess that Wilt showed was not confined to jumping events.

Thanks to the long strides and powerful running style that Chamberlain employed he was a miraculous middle distance runner as his preteen times of 49 seconds in the 440 yard race (once around a standard track) and under two minutes in the 880 yard distance (twice around a standard track) are exceptional numbers for even a college athlete. Chamberlain excelled at every aspect of track and field including running, jumping, and throwing. He is reported to have tossed a shot put over 53 feet in his youth.

Chamberlain matured very quickly and continued to grow at a rapid pace. At the age of 10 the young man was already 6' tall and when he started high school he was an astounding 6'11". As a 7'2" college freshmen playing basketball at the University of Kansas (commonly referred to as KU) the 240 pound Chamberlain could reach 9'6" into the air just standing flat footed (no tip toes).

Wilt took up his first love of track and field at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas while also playing basketball there. The 7'2" goliath ran a sub 11 second 100 yard dash and also threw the shot put 56 feet. Despite competing and excelling in both sprinting and throwing his best events were not surprisingly the jumping events as Chamberlain triple jumped in excess of 50 feet and successfully won the Big 8 Conference high jumping competition three years in a row. In the world of track and field it is an extraordinarily rare athlete that can compete at the highest level in the shortest sprints, all the jumping events, and the throwing events. This dynamic collection of talents is so rare in fact that Wilt might be the only man ever to possess this unique skill set.

Tony Bandle 9 years, 9 months ago

You forgot one thing...Wilt Chamberlain may have been the greatest volleyball player ever to play the game. His skill set was ideal for that game...he was untouchable on defense and unstoppable on offense.

doubled96 9 years, 9 months ago

Wilt also wanted to box Muhammad Ali, but I believe Ali's camp didn't want it. I also heard the NFL (Chiefs?) extended an offer to him to play TE, but he only wanted to play if he could be the quarterback. Not sure how true these are, but seriously, the guy was an amazing athlete. I knew about the track and field accomplishments, and also about the volleyball. Proud to have his jersey hanging in the rafters!

Robert Brock 9 years, 9 months ago

Wilt also holds the single-game record for rebounds. He pulled down 55 against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. I cannot imagine anyone coming close to topping that number.

Tony Bandle 9 years, 9 months ago

I wonder what the shooting %'s for both teams were for that game!!!???

nuleafjhawk 9 years, 9 months ago

The day Wilt's jersey was retired was one that so warmed my heart then (and maybe my eyes leaked a little too...), and every time I've thought of it since then.

I've read several books about and by Wilt over the years and he was not only (in my mind) the greatest basketball player that ever lived, but probably one of the greatest all around athletes.

Someone with a larger than life physique and a personality to go along with it.

I'm very proud that he played his college ball here and so glad that he was able to conquer whatever demons kept him away from Lawrence for so long and to experience first hand the love that many generations of Jayhawks had for him.

I had some very harsh things to say about Ol Roy after he left, but from what I understand he was instrumental in getting Wilt back here for the jersey retirement ceremony. If that's the case, I will be eternally grateful to him for that.

If any of you have a tissue handy - here's the ceremony if you'd like to see it again - RCJH :

Tony Bandle 9 years, 9 months ago

I cried so much I almost flooded my jock. Thanks for posting that tribute. You can take Jordan and Magic and Bird and any other player, but none of them measured up the "The Big Dipper!!!"

FLJHK 9 years, 9 months ago

nuleaf: great post and many thanks for the link.

Michael Thorp 9 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for the link. One of my all time favorite moments in AFH.

Mike Kendall 9 years, 9 months ago


You made a Jayhawk fan very happy for posting that link. Great to see it again. Didn't see Wilt in person but I have read and seen past stories and historical accounts. I was two years old when Wilt scored his points in the famous picture above---way before I was a Jayhawk fan. So, when the "old-timers" come on board and start talking about Wilt, I listen, and just darn glad Wilt was a Jayhawk. Love the stories. Thanks again, nuleafjhawk! Rock Chalk!

chalked 9 years, 9 months ago

Great read. "I almost flooded my jock." Classic.

JayHok 9 years, 9 months ago

Wilt talking about his three years at Kansas during the 76ers championship season. Documented in the book about the '67 season---- 'If we would have been allowed to play basketball [at Kansas] we would have won a couple championships.'

The book talks about how he had to sit out his freshman season by NCAA rule after a 40-30-20 game against the varsity. How crazy was that. Gave the rule committee which didn't have a single member from the University on it anymore after the forced retirement of Allen---- a year to think about what Kansas could do for the next three years. In his quote the book goes onto discuss what the college rule committee did to Chamberlain and Kansas. It worked only in that it kept Kansas away from two or three titles----the claim is Chamberlain would have stayed for his senior year had there not been five guys kneeing him in the shins and other places everytime down the court in college. The book goes onto discuss what happened with the NBA rule committee. Like the NCAA the NBA tried to change the rules to lessen the Chamberlain effect as they called it. According to the author, 'it didn't make a damn bit of difference.'

okiedave 9 years, 9 months ago

I recall watching Wilt play at KU when I was a small lad. In the 60's, Allen fieldhouse was known as the "The House That Wilt Bilt"

Robert Murphy 9 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for the great posts. I was fortunate enough to be a freshman at KU with Wilt Chamberlain. I was at the first game Wilt played against Northwestern and was on the front row to see the loss to North Carolina in the championship game. I had an accounting class with Wilt out behind Strong Hall. It was an 8 o'clock so it was always hard to get up and very cold waiting for the building to open. He was a true gentleman of the game of basketball and a great human being.

Ben Kane 9 years, 9 months ago

I will never forget being in the Fieldhouse when Wilt finally returned to Lawrence. Almost everybody had tears in their eyes as he spoke to the fans.

Mike Kendall 9 years, 9 months ago

I did. Of course, anything to do with KU, senior speeches, etc., will make me cry. The senior speech that Tyshawn will give will make me cry, I'm sure. Oh, well.

nuleafjhawk 9 years, 9 months ago

Who saw "Old Yeller?" Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end? [raises his hand] John Winger: sarcastically Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I'm sure. [hands are reluctantly raised] John Winger: I cried my eyes out.

Stripes - 1981

Don't know why I felt obliged to put that in there - other than it was a good crying reference! I'm glad you guys don't know me - I cry at weddings and funerals and Senior Night Speeches and basically every time I hear the National Anthem - especially at KU games.

aerohawk 9 years, 9 months ago

It was great to be there. I wish I would have had a better grasp of the importance of the event and the player then.

9 years, 9 months ago

Speaking of Wilt, I found an entertaining piece of info from when his San Francisco Warriors were playing Clyde Lovellette’s Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the 1964 NBA Finals. Apparently, they didn’t always see eye-to-eye, and the disagreement escalated.

One account says:

“That set up what was, for all the wrong reasons, a memorable Game 2. Boston’s Clyde Lovellette was in the game, shoving Wilt all over the court. Lovellette was known as something of a dirty player. He was also the man who had knocked two of Wilt’s teeth loose with a vicious elbow a few years before. On this night, Wilt had had enough of Lovellette’s bullying style. Referee Norm Drucker later recalled the exchange that came as a result: “Wilt said [to Lovellette] ‘Cut it out,’ or words to that effect. With that, Clyde put his hands up in a fighting pose. I think Wilt thought Clyde was going to throw a punch, so Wilt hit him right in the jaw. Clyde crumpled to the floor.”

Warriors forward Tom Meschery added, “I can tell you, the punch didn’t travel more than 10 inches. Clyde fell like a bull in a bullfight.”

Players and coaches from both teams stormed out, and the court turned into bedlam. The police had to come out to restore order. Wilt took a lot of punishment and almost never fought back, but when he did, he made his point.”

    • “Wilt Chamberlain” by Matt Doeden

Another recollection states:

“Julius Erving brought the game onto another planet and, of course, Wilt Chamberlain, besides being a scoring machine, may be the strongest basketball player of all time. I think that because Wilt was so mild it saved a great many other players from physical harm. The only time I ever saw him get angry was when he chased Bob Ferry up into the stands and the time he decked Clyde Lovellette, who was playing for Boston at the time. San Francisco was playing Boston in the play-offs, and Clyde was the backup for Bill Russell. The game was in Boston and Lovellette was muscling Wilt. After a few elbows Wilt turns and tells Clyde to stop—now! Clyde suddenly raises his fists ala Jack Dempsey and makes a motion as if to throw a punch. Wilt hit him with a short right and Clyde starts his descent to the floor. After about four seconds, he begins to get up, and George Lee from the San Francisco bench yells, “Clyde, I’ve seen you fight—stay down and take the full count.””

    • “Set Shot to Slam Dunk: The Glory Days of Basketball in the Words of Those Who Played It” by Charles Salzberg

Martin Rosenblum 9 years, 9 months ago

Irreverant, but poignant:

SNL 1991 skit with MC Hammer as Wilt in a situation involving his other "record" accomplishments with women. Oddly humourous, but very memorable, if you saw it.

(I've tried to find the video, but it doesn't seem to be available to post a link for.)

Tony Bandle 9 years, 9 months ago

No one will ever break Wilt's single game scoring record unless they change the rules and give four points for a lay-up!!! :}

Remember...he scored 100 points without the benefit of the three point shot!!

{ Let's see..20,000 x an average of 5"-6", laid end to end = 110,000 feet/5280 ft. per mile = 20 + miles !!!!]

nwhawkfan 9 years, 9 months ago

Glad someone mentioned Wilt's prowess as a track star. One of my prize possessions is a photo I took of Wilt at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal as he was leaving one of the track & field sessions, towering over the rest of the crowd while wearing a cool pair of shades and a loud Hawaiian shirt...

A man of many talents. He even had his own disc jockey show on the KU student radio station called "Discs with Dipper" or something like that.

Enjoying the ESPN coverage of the anniversary. I don't know which is more amazing, whether he made so many free throws, or that it was BEFORE the era of the 3-point shot.

Steve Brown 9 years, 9 months ago

As Ronnie Reagan said, "where do we get such men"

jaybate 9 years, 9 months ago

Part I

"On Wilt Chamberlain"

50 years and no other player as dominant individually, or within a team framework, when he had good teammates, since.

And in the years since the pool from which the NBA draws talent has broadened from USA to the world, from hundred and fifty million to 6 billion. And still no one exceeds his combination of size, strength, athleticism and offensive and defensive skill.

He was not the Babe Ruth of basketball.

He was the Wilt Chamberlain of sport.

Only one other man in sport in my time equalled him in stature.

Muhammad Ali.

And he was very nearly willing to fight Ali.

I am so grateful for whatever prevented him from fighting Ali.

Not because he might have been badly beaten by Ali, or because he might have badly beaten Ali.

But because basketball is the game that signals the way forward out of the darkness of human savagery.

Boxing, much as I once loved the sport, is the way backwards into darkness. Boxing and all of the sports aimed at brutalizing an opponent to win are but ways backward into savagery. And basketball is ever vulnerable to becoming this way.

There was something noble in Wilt Chamberlain. And he applied himself to the two human games that are in my opinion the most ennobling of all human sports: basketball and volley ball. Both point not to the darkness of the past, but to the light of a possible future. All persons owe a debt of gratitude to the world's greatest athlete for choosing to spend himself on such sports, and not on the baser ones.

Wilt Chamberlain had huge amount of human dignity. He used his abilities for humane ends, not necessarily the most socially aware, or the ends that many thought most advanced the African American agenda of his time.

jaybate 9 years, 9 months ago

Part II

But Wilt sought out and elevated beauty in life, the bueaty of his game, of his volley ball, of his house, of the women he loved, rather than seeking out and elevating power, political advancement, and improved race relations, though he did some of all of these, but never enough to suit his critics among progressive Caucasian Americans and African Americans.

His house in Los Angeles expressed the man IMHO, both his strengths and his hedonism, his rationality and his hugeness of spirit.

Wilt was not perfect, but he remained human during all the inhumanity he experienced and all the inhumanity of the times he lived through.

More so even than Martin Luther King, or Harry Belafonte, or Bill Russell, or Langston Hughes, or Miles Davis, or Sidney Poitier, or Jim Brown, Wilt wrung from me the pettiness and inhumaneness of the somewhat lessening racism of the time I was raised in.

I kept five Sports Illustrated covers on the wall of my bedroom throughout my childhood: Wilt Chamberlain, Joe Namath, Ted Williams, Ali and Bill Russell. Williams was and remains the only great athletes before my time that I really look up to.

But it was Wilt's face that I looked into each morning as i started the day and it was Wilt's face that I looked into each night before going to bed.

Wilt Chamberlain was not the most defiant, the most political, the most articulate, the handsomest, the smartest man among this personal sports pantheon I kept.

But he was the most humane and accessible of all of them, at least from my vantage point far removed from all of them. When I looked in his eyes I saw a human being who I felt understood the world as I understood it, regardless of color, height, wealth, and greatness, who understood it as a place you had to do your best in, but that you could not single handedly, or even in a large group change a huge amount in anything less than several generations, a place full of human beings you had to take risks in trusting, yet a place full of hate and vindictiveness, a place where the best thing a man could do was to live it on his own terms, his own way, without bowing down to convention, or sucking up to authority, not in rebellion, but not tolerating the outrageous stupidity and prejudice suffusing it, without denying where you came from, and without apologizing for where you were going.

jaybate 9 years, 9 months ago

Part III

As a boy, I saw a man in Wilt who wanted to be more than an African American, or a basketball player, or an ideologue, or a leader of others. I saw a man who wanted to be a man, who he was, to the fullest of his abilities, but not a man in any narrowly defined sense, but a man in every way his legacy permitted and in every new way that the river of life brought him, but without trying to hurt anyone unnecessarily.

As I look back on Wilt Chamberlain, I realize he probably hurt his share of people, maybe a lot of women. But I doubt nearly as much as some men who have been with only a few women. I saw no evidence on his part ever of intentional cruelty in anything he ever did. I never saw him get small. Looking back he seems even larger to me as an adult than he did as a child, in relation to my own life lived and to lives lived by my friends and colleagues.

Of all the persons in the world I would like to have met and would have wished to have been able to call a friend, he is without doubt the one I most regret never having a chance at meeting and befriending.

Why Wilt, when there are so many brilliant persons, so many heroic persons, so many who did so much more than he did in the way of overt actions to better the society?

Because he seemed to have the most expansive spirit, the most extreme combination of toughness and vulnerability, confidence and doubt, and perhaps the deepest insight into what it means to be unique and different of anyone I have ever observed.

It would have made him interesting over dinner.

It would have made him a great friend.

And I would have been assured of winning every pick-up game we ever played in.

I will tell you how big Wilt Chamberlain was and still is.

The man scored a hundred points in a game and even that accomplishment is still dwarfed by the size of his personality and his appetite for life.

Even Ali, even Russell, could not as men, cast personal shadows over their greatnesses as boxer and basketball player, and as a public spokespersons for their race, and spokespersons for all persons of the world regarding war and peace.

I am not diminishing Ali, or Russell. They were unquestionably greater men than Wilt in public affairs and public service.

And I am not saying Wilt did more for African Americans than Martin Luther King, or other African American scholars, lawyers, politicians and businessmen most of us, even African Americans, never learn of, unless they dig deeply behind the scenes.

But what I am saying is that when one strips away the great careers of any great men of Wilt's era and looks at the man himself, Wilt remains a giant of a man, whereas the rest shrink to mere mortals made great in large part by the events of their times.

jaybate 9 years, 9 months ago

Part IV

Wilt was much more like some kind of Greek god down from Olympus for awhile strolling about among mortals than a great man.

And like all Greek gods he had flaws.

And it was the flaws that enabled us, and still enables us, to identify with these gods, when we take a few moments and reread some classics, or even just the myths to our children from children's books.

The Greek gods were incomprehensibly gifted, greater in stature in almost every way than mere mortals, but for one or two aspects which invariably lead them to suffer just as we mortals do, to wonder why they had to bear fates and misfortunes that befall them just as we do.

When I see Ali I see an ordinary man with extraordinary reflexes, speed and eye hand coordination, a beautiful natural athlete who trained relentlessly to be great and became so; then answered the call of his spirit and religion and stood up to power, and after being jailed transcended it and became a hero to many in the world.

When I see Bill Russell I see one of the great human beings that may have ever lived, but still a man who did his duty in sport and civil rights and who deserves as much credit as any one for changing the way people think in this country about excellence and about African Americans abilities to achieve fantastic excellence, and to lead, and to remain gracious doing so. And he is the greatest winner of all time in sport. But Bill Russell has always seemed a driven man, not a demigod, or a god.

When I recall Martin Luther King, I think of this minister with a wife and children that allowed himself to be groomed to one day be a spokesman for a region and a people and then a nation and much of a world, a minister who answered the call when the movement swelled under him and who ascended to heights of oratory and of courage in the face of seething hatred, but always a man, a fragile man, a man who deeply understood his own role, both the importance of it, and the danger of it, in a drama bigger than him and bigger than us all.

But with Wilt, it was the man himself who was a giant, who circumstances and events could never truly dictate to, who went his own way, who refused to become a player of a role and who instead was who he was.

Wilt Chamberlain.

Get out of the way Zeus.

The man wants to dunk on your grill.

FLJHK 9 years, 9 months ago

JB: I knew this tribute was coming and waited for it all day. It did not disappoint. Thank you.

Mike Kendall 9 years, 9 months ago

Thanks, Jaybate. I know you catch heat from some on the length of your posts. Not from me. You rock!

jaybate 9 years, 9 months ago


If there were no heat, that would mean there were no fire.

If there were no fire, that would mean the living myth of KU basketball had died.

Rock Chalk!

ancient_hawk 9 years, 9 months ago


"Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes..."

Just teasing, that was a heartfelt tribute.

fansincewilt 9 years, 9 months ago

No TV but there is a radio broadcast of the game. You can listen to that 4th quarter here and hear Ruklick pass Wilt the ball as he gets that 100th. Pretty nice recording -

imzcount 9 years, 9 months ago - Cached

Wilt destroys Arnold the there anything this man didn't do, I remember he would go water skiing in the Caribbean during the offseasons.

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