On March 2, 1962, an unbreakable basketball record was set. I’m a Wilt Chamberlain fan. I have been since the late 1950s.
Chamberlain grew up in Philadelphia. (I grew up in Philadelphia’s suburbs.) He went to Overbrook High School and then decided to go the University of Kansas.
He dropped out of college after two seasons, and because in those days you could not enter professional basketball until after your senior class had graduated, he played one and half years with the Harlem Globetrotters.
In the summer of 1960, while I was attending Pine Forest (a summer camp), Wilt came as a Harlem Globetrotter. (He had previously been a kitchen boy at the camp.) He put on a brief exhibition and signed autographs. I was 14. I had the presence of mind to ask Wilt for his autograph on a postcard. At camp we were required to write home every day.
The postcard I sent home that day read: Dear Mom and Dad, I played ball with Wilt the Stilt today. Here’s his autograph. Please save this postcard. Love, Jeff
My mother, rest her soul, saved the postcard for 25 years. I found it with all the other postcards and letters she had saved as I was going through her personal artifacts after she passed away. That was a moment all by itself.
I don’t know the value of a 1960 Wilt Chamberlain authentic autograph, but I do know that if someone offered me $100,000, I would pass. Some things have no price in spite of the clichés you may have heard.
Back to Wilt.
You can argue the fact that Wilt was the best basketball player of all time. Many will agree. Many will disagree. I don’t really care about the people who disagree.
Wilt Chamberlain’s records are still on the books. He was the only NBA player to score 4,000 points in a season. He set NBA single-game records for most points (100), most consecutive field goals (18), and most rebounds (55). His most mind-boggling stat was the 50.4 points per game he averaged during the 1961-62 season. He also averaged 48.5 minutes of play per game that same year (that’s every minute, of every game, plus overtime).
Wilt entered the NBA as a Philadelphia Warrior (based on the territorial draft system that was in place at that time), briefly went to San Francisco when the Warriors went there, then rejoined Philadelphia as a 76er, and ended his career in Los Angeles as a Laker.
When Wilt retired…
■He was the all-time leader in career points with 31,419. (Later passed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, and Michael Jordan)
■He held the record for most rebounds with 23,924. (Will never be passed.)
■He led the NBA in scoring for seven years in a row. Most games with 50+ points: 118. Most consecutive games with 40+ points: 14. Most consecutive games with 30+ points: 65. Most consecutive games with 20+ points: 126. Highest rookie scoring average: 37.6 per game. Highest field goal percentage in a season: .727. (And with many of these records, the player in second place is far, far behind.)
INTERESTING FACT ABOUT WILT: He never fouled out of a basketball game during the entire length of his career, yet he also led the league in blocked shots and rebounds.
THE RECORD: On March 2, 1962, while playing against the New York Knicks, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in front of about 4,500 people, Wilt scored 100 points. It’s a record that is celebrating its 50th birthday, and a record that will most likely never be broken.
The game was not televised. I listened to it on the radio.
The reason I’m writing this piece is that Wilt Chamberlain did not just set records, he set standards. His athletic prowess was so great that he changed the rules of the game.
Wilt was so massive and such a great rebounder that they widened the foul lanes to prevent Wilt from complete basketball domination. He was a game changer AND a rule changer.
What are you able to change about your career or process?
What level are you playing at? Top, middle, or below average?
What records are you setting that will last 50 years? What contributions have you made?
Wilt Chamberlain was colorful and controversial.
You either loved him or hated him.
I loved him.
Most people don’t realize that Wilt wasn’t just a basketball player, he was a world-class athlete. He set a state high school record in high jump, and after he retired from professional basketball, he won the two-man volleyball championship more than once.
Please don’t confuse this article as just a tribute to the late, great Wilt Chamberlain. Rather, it’s a commentary on setting standards, breaking records, and the ability to have so much skill that the rules are changed to level the playing field. That’s what Wilt Chamberlain was to basketball.
What standards have you set?