Feb. 21, 2013

The Greatest Hoopstar Ever: Wilt Chamberlain

I am almost 53 years old. I have been a basketball fan since the 1971-72 NBA season when my Lakers won 33 straight NBA games. That team had Jerry West, Elgin Baylor (who retired during the season) Gail Goodrich, Jim McMillan and Happy Hairston and Wilt Chamberlain.

Wilt Chamberlain was a force of nature. He dominated the NBA for 14 seasons. He led the league 7 times in scoring, 9 times in shooting, 1 time in assists and MANY times in rebounds. Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain still holds 90 NBA records.

He is by far the best I ever saw. I have been blessed to see West, Magic Johnson, Shaq, kobe, MJ, Dr. J, Kareem, Larry Bird, Lebron...You name it, I've pretty much seen them all and Wilt has no peer. 

You can try to make the argument that he was a giant among mortals. You would be right, BUT I watched him absolutely manhandle Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in that 1971-72 season in person. Kareem was his equal in stature and Kareem was in his prime. The date was November 21, 1971 at the Fabulous Forum. The defending champion Bucks came in to try and stop the Lakers 10-game winning streak. 

Kareem scored 39 points that night, but was blocked several times by Wilt at key points. This is what makes Wilt so memorable as a player. He was asked by coach Bill Sharman at the beginning of the year to forego scoring and focus on defense and passing. Chamberlain was able to dominate Jabbar while letting Jabbar take a TON of shots and score a bunch of points, yet the Lakers won each regular season game against a great team.

The Lakers handled the Bucks 4-2 in the Conference Finals that year with Chamberlain continuing to NOT score a lot. He dominated on defense and passed the ball. The Lakers had their greatest season and first championship in Los Angeles.

Wilt Chamberlain was able to score at will throughout his career, but it wasn't until he had taken enough beatings by the less-athletic Bill Russell (11-time Celtics champion) and bought into coach Sharman's plea to give up his usual game for the betterment of his team.

I was an 11-year-old kid getting to witness REAL sports history, going to 3 games during that 33-game win streak. I never have seen anyone so imposing on a basketball court. Kareem and Shaq were both truly great in their own right, but not like Wilt.

Bill Russell figured Wilt out and his Philadelphia team only managed to defeat them one time in 1967.

Please keep in mind that Wilt averaged 50 points, and 25 rebounds in the 1966-67 season. He scored 100 points in one game against the Knicks in 1962. In my opinion, that is the single greatest feat in sports history.

Don't just take my word for it:

"When I started to play with him, he helped make me a better player. We seemed to have a real good feel together, I think it translated into a confidence with him. All players are generally judged by the number of championships they won. Unfortunately, he only won two. His greatness as a basketball player can't be questioned. He was fun, we used to laugh at him a lot, some of the things that would happen. I once told him, no one roots for Goliath." – Jerry West

"Wilt was one of the greatest ever, and we will never see another one like him." – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who broke Chamberlain's record to become the NBA's leading career scorer.

"Wilt is playing better than I used to -- passing off, coming out to set up screens, picking up guys outside, and sacrificing himself for team play."
-- Bill Russell

"If [the referee] is calling [the game] loose then everyone gets away with more. So, you have to handle your own man accordingly, unless it's Wilt Chamberlain. Him, you just don't handle. He's too strong. The best you can do is make him work hard."-- Bill Russell

"I don't think it's fair to compare players in different eras, but he was about as dominant as any one player could be in any sport. I looked at him like he was invincible." -- Larry Brown