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Monday, October 18, 2021

This Day in History: Basketball Superstar Wilt Chamberlain

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Wilt Chamberlain, at over 7 feet tall, towered over the competition throughout his record-breaking career in the N.B.A. and beyond.

By his 1978 induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the 275-pound dunking machine indisputably dominated the record books with a remarkable 100-points scored in one game and the highest average score per game in a single season, at over 50 points.

Born in 1936, Chamberlain grew up in Philadelphia where he excelled at Overbrook High School. As the star of his varsity basketball team, he scored well over 2,000 points and steered his team to victory in two city championships.

After wading through a sea of scholarship offers, Chamberlain selected the University of Kansas as his college of choice. Though he enjoyed a stellar run playing collegiate basketball, Chamberlain left his team after an N.C.A.A. tournament defeat.

With a year gap before he qualified for the N.B.A., Chamberlain joined the Harlem Globetrotters with an unprecedented $65,000 contract.

“Wilt the Stilt” enjoyed an illustrious NBA career, playing over 13 seasons between his stints with the Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. With an ability to adapt exceptionally well to his team’s needs, Chamberlain developed robust offensive and defensive skills and earned impressive assists and scoring stats. 

The “Big Dipper” won N.B.A. championships in 1967 and 1972, with the 76ers and the Lakers respectively.

Though Chamberlain’s highly publicized rivalry with Boston Celtics superstar Bill Russell garnered massive fan attention, the two were friendly off the court.

With a big stature and a big legacy, Chamberlain occasionally struggled with the public’s larger-than-life expectations.

“Bigness. I mean just an exterior physical bigness kind of brings that on. People just look at you as being impenetrable,” said Chamberlain in an interview with journalist Roy Firestone. “They think if you’re small, anything can hurt you. If you’re big, nothing will hurt you. And that’s the furthest from the truth.”

In the interview, over a decade before the basketball legend’s death, Firestone asked Chamberlain how he would like to be remembered.

“Well, a big guy that had a lot of compassion,” he said.

Chamberlain died in 1999 at the age of 63.

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