Who Was Wilt Chamberlain?
Known as "Wilt the Stilt" for his 7'1" frame, Wilt Chamberlain was a Harlem Globetrotter before joining the Philadelphia Warriors. He achieved an average of 30.1 points per game over his career and holds several records, including for most points scored in one season (4,029) and most points scored in a single game (100). Chamberlain was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. He died in Bel-Air, California, in 1999.
Early Life and Education
Wilton Norman Chamberlain was born on August 21, 1936, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Chamberlain was regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time as the first NBA player to score more than 30,000 points during his professional career.
Chamberlain was a standout player at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia. He played on the school's varsity team for three years, scoring more than 2,200 points in total. Standing at 6'11" tall at the time, Chamberlain physically dominated other players. He eventually reached his full height of a staggering 7'1" tall. Many of his nicknames were derived from his stature. He hated being called "Wilt the Stilt," or "the Stilt," which came from a local reporter covering high school athletics. But Chamberlain didn't mind "The Big Dipper," or "Dipper," a nickname given to him by friends because he had to duck his head when passing through a doorframe.
When it came time for college, Chamberlain was sought after by many top college basketball teams. He chose to attend the University of Kansas, making his college basketball debut in 1956 with the Jayhawks, and leading the team to the NCAA finals in 1957. The Jayhawks were defeated by North Carolina, but Chamberlain was named "Most Outstanding Player" of the tournament. Continuing to excel, he made the all-America and all-conference teams the following season.
Leaving college in 1958, Chamberlain had to wait a year before going pro due to NBA rules. He chose to spend the next season performing with the Harlem Globetrotters before landing a spot with the Philadelphia Warriors. In 1959, Chamberlain played his first professional game in New York City against the Knicks, scoring 43 points. His impressive debut season netted him several prestigious honors, including the NBA Rookie of the Year and NBA Most Valuable Player awards. Also during this season, Chamberlain began his rivalry with Celtics defensive star Bill Russell. The two were fierce competitors on the court, but they developed a friendship away from the game.
Chamberlain's most famous season, however, came in 1962. That March, he became the first NBA player to score 100 points in a game, setting a league record for the highest number of points scored in a single game (which he still holds today). By season's end, Chamberlain racked up more than 4,000 points—becoming the first NBA player to do so—scoring an average of 50.4 points per game. At the top of his game, Chamberlain was selected for the All-NBA first team for three consecutive years: 1960, 1961 and 1962.
Chamberlain stayed with the Warriors as they moved out to San Francisco in 1962. He continued to play well, averaging more than 44 points per game for the 1962-63 season and almost 37 points per game for the 1963-64 season. Returning to his hometown in 1965, Chamberlain joined the Philadelphia 76ers. There he helped his team score an NBA championship win over his former team. Along the way to the championship, he also assisted the Sixers in defeating the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals. The Celtics were knocked out of the running after eight consecutive championship wins. Crowds gathered to watch the latest match between two top center players: Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
Traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1968, Chamberlain again proved that he was a competitive and successful athlete. He helped the Lakers win the 1972 NBA championship, triumphing over the New York Knicks in five straight games, and was named the NBA Finals MVP.
By the time he retired in 1973, Chamberlain had amassed an amazing array of career statistics. He had played in 1,045 games and achieved an average of 30.1 points per game—the NBA points-per-game record until Michael Jordan broke it in 1998. To this day, Additionally, Chamberlain remains notable for never fouling out of an NBA game.
After his retirement, Chamberlain explored other opportunities. He published his autobiography, Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door, in 1973. He tried coaching for a time, and was a popular pitchman for commercials. Chamberlain later branched out in acting, appearing in the 1984 action film Conan the Destroyer with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Still, his feats as a player were not forgotten. In 1978, Chamberlain was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He was named one of the top all-time 50 NBA players in 1996. In 1991, Chamberlain claimed another, more unusual distinction, when he wrote in his book A View from Above that he had slept with more than 20,000 women during his lifetime.
Death and Legacy
Chamberlain died of heart failure on October 12, 1999, at his Los Angeles home. He once said that "no one cheered for Goliath," but the response to his passing proved that to be false. "Wilt was one of the greatest ever, and we will never see another like him," said basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His former rival Bill Russell told the press that "he and I will be friends through eternity."
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