Nearly all of the 4,000 in attendance stormed the court. Grown men were crying and others acting like children. The impossible had happened in the city known for chocolate, Hershey, Pennsylvania. The problem was there were still 46 seconds to go in the game.
The early days of the NBA were not quite as stringent as they are today. If you could scrape up $3,000, you could pay a team to come play you at a different location. There was no shot clock or three-point shot. Hershey was the training camp site for Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia Warriors. Their opponents this night would travel from New York City and call themselves the Knickerbockers. It was March 2, 1962, and a ticket for the game could be had for $2.00.
Wilt was 25 years old and lived in New York City, even though he played in Philadelphia. So, he drove to Philly and then rode the team bus to Hershey. “I was tired when we got there,” said Wilt. No one was prepared to experience what would happen that night, especially the Knicks. Since the game was played in Hershey, only one reporter showed up, Harvey Pollack. He was also the scorekeeper. Wilt made virtually every shot he took that night. He had 23 points at the end of the first quarter. Knicks’ center, Darrall Imhoff, was no match for Wilt, so the Knicks fouled him. Wilt made 13 of 14 free throws and had 41 points by halftime. Warriors’ coach, Frank McGuire, spurred his big center to continue dominating.
By the end of the third quarter, Wilt had 69 points and the fans became restless. It made no difference who guarded Chamberlain. Wilt set the new NBA scoring record when he reached 79 points in the fourth quarter. Everyone realized what could happen, and the Knicks became upset and were trying to save face. So, New York slowed the ball down and tried to stall. McGuire realized what was happening and instructed his team to foul so they could get the ball back, back to Wilt. With 46 seconds left on the clock, teammate Joe Ruklick passed Wilt the ball. Wilton Norman Chamberlain turned and scored his 100th point of the night, the first and only time it has been done.
The game was eventually finished and Wilt retired with his team to the dressing room. Harvey Pollack borrowed a piece of copy paper and wrote 100 in big numbers. He gave the paper to Wilt and asked him to hold it up for a picture. History had been made.
What happened to the ball has been debated all these years. One fan claims to have stolen the ball from Wilt during the celebration and said he took it home. Pollack, the reporter, claims he got it. The myth continues. Interestingly, Wilt hitched a ride with a couple of the Knicks’ players back to New York. It’s a wonder they would even speak to him.
How quickly we forget the past. Just a week removed for the NBA All-Star Game, you would think that the game had been invented by today’s players. How ridiculous. Wilt should be easy to remember. Here are a few facts to help you remember. During the 1961-62 NBA season, Wilt played every minute of 79 of the 80 games scheduled. He missed only eight minutes in one game, after being ejected. Wilt averaged over 50 points per game. A bad night for Chamberlain was 44 points. Michael Jordan scored 50 or more points 31 times in his career. Wilt did it 45 times that season. Anything was possible for Wilt. Chamberlain once blocked 26 shots in one game against the Detroit Pistons. On one rainy night, Wilt hauled down 55 rebounds against Russell and the Boston Celtics. He won seven scoring titles, eleven rebounding titles, and even led the league in assists, one season. Wilt left the NBA in 1973 and he still holds 90 NBA records today, even though he hasn’t played in 43 years. How’s that?
During the NBA All Star game in Toronto, Paul George of the Indiana Pacers had scored 41 points for the East All-Star squad, in what was seen as a “playground game” void of any defense, whatsoever. Gregg Popovich, Head Coach of the San Antonio Spurs and coach of the West All-Stars was aware that Wilt Chamberlain owned the All-Star Game scoring record by an individual at 42 points. To protect Chamberlain and NBA history, Popovich placed two guys on George to make sure he did not get the record “on the cheap.” “Pop’s” move worked.
“The Dipper,” the nickname his dad gave him, played at Overbrook High School, located in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and once scored 90 points in 28 minutes. During Wilt’s senior year, he was recruited by more than 200 colleges and universities. He would attend the University of Kansas and score 52 points in his first game, still a record. Kansas played the University of North Carolina for the 1957 NCAA title. After losing the final, 54-53 in triple overtime, Wilt left Kansas before his senior year and joined the Harlem Globetrotters, in 1958. A year later, he joined the Warriors of the NBA. Chamberlain versus Russell would become one of the most anticipated match-ups in history.
Wilt Chamberlain played against Bill Russell 142 times during their career and changed the way basketball would be played forever. Other players found themselves watching them, instead of paying attention to their own assignments. “Oh, we were competitive and everybody thought we hated each other. That was far from the truth,” said Bill Russell.
I met “Wilt the Stilt,” a name he hated, in Houston at a memorabilia show at the Astros-Hall, next to the Astrodome. Bob Feller was also on hand. Wilt signed the photograph attached to this story for me. Standing 7’ 1” tall, his voice was incredibly deep, and his legs were too long for his body. He walked gently, from many knee surgeries. His #13 has been retired by five different teams.
Only one guy in the history of the game has scored 100 points in a single game, and don’t you forget it. His name is Wilt Chamberlain; he should have lived to be a hundred. Wilt left us on October 12, 1999, while sleeping. He had suffered from several heart problems, and his death was officially ruled a heart attack. Bill Russell cried.