Friday, March 02, 2012

Remembering Wilt and 100

By John McMullen

PHILADELPHIA - Numbers are all the rage in sports, but I'll leave things like PER and UZR to those who think scouting is best done in front of a computer screen.

There are, however, some truly iconic numbers in sports. Before steroids were
part of the American lexicon, 714 and then 755 were committed to the memory of
every baseball fan. Even today, the number 56, the length of Joe DiMaggio's
incredible hitting streak, is instantly recognizable to any real hardball fan.

In basketball, one number stands head and shoulders above the rest -- 100.

The legendary Wilt Chamberlain, then playing for the old Philadelphia
Warriors, set the single-game NBA scoring record 50 years ago by hanging the
century mark on the New York Knicks during a 169-147 win on March 2, 1962, at
the Hershey Sports Arena.

The magnitude of the feat, already enormous, has grown to mythical proportions
probably because there is no video footage of the game, only audio of Philly
broadcasting giant Bill Campbell calling the game's fourth quarter.

The NBA was not the juggernaut it is today and no members of the New York
media traveled with the Knicks to Hershey. Meanwhile, the stands were
basically half empty with 4,124 listed as the actual attendance, although
anyone from the area that's old enough still claims to have been at the game.

Wilt, who passed away in 1999, scored 23 points in the first quarter against
6-foot-10 Darrall Imhoff and the Knicks. By intermission, the big man had 41.

"I wouldn't dare say that I thought he was going to score 100 points,"
Campbell recently told CBSPhilly. "It never entered my mind. But, I thought
that only because he was making his foul shots -- which he never did. And I
figured this guy's going to have -- and I'm thinking out loud, 80, 90 points."

Like Campbell, sensing something spectacular was going on, Chamberlain's
teammates began spoon-feeding him in the third quarter and he notched another
28 before securing 31 in the final frame to reach 100.

Chamberlain finished 36-for-63 from the field and a surprising 28-for-32 from
the foul line (he was a poor career free-throw shooter at just 51.1 percent).

According to long-time Philadelphia statistician Harvey Pollack, the only
person who has worked in the NBA since its inaugural 1946-47 season, public
address announcer Dave Zinkoff, another Philly treasure, amped up the crowd by
giving out Chamberlain's total after each bucket.

Chamberlain finally reached the magic number by depositing a layup past the
Knicks' Joe Ruklick with just 46 seconds to go.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the performance was the fact it was done
as part of the offense. All four other Warriors' starters that night scored in
double figures: Al Attles with 17, Tom Meschery and Paul Arizin with 16
apiece, and point guard Guy Rodgers collected 11.

And understand the Knicks did not want the ignominy of allowing Chamberlain to
hit 100. As he closed in, New York began running the 24-second shot clock down
and fouling Chamberlain's teammates to keep scoring opportunities away from
the Big Dipper.

"I spent 12 years in his armpits, and I always carried that 100-point game on
my shoulders," Imhoff told the Los Angeles Times back in 1999. "After I got my
third foul, I said to one of the officials, Willy Smith, 'Why don't you just
give him 100 points and we'll all go home?' Well, we did."

After the game, Pollack wrote the number 100 on a piece of paper and handed it
to Chamberlain. The ensuing photograph is one of the most famous in sports and
resides in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Two nights later, at Madison Square Garden, Chamberlain tried to go for the
century mark again, and Imhoff and Company "held" him to 54. The fans gave
Imhoff a standing ovation.

"He was an amazing, strong man," Imhoff said.

In the past 50 years, the closest anyone has come to duplicating Wilt's
historic feat was Kobe Bryant in a brilliant 81-point performance against the
Toronto Raptors in 2006.

Some say that's a hiccup away, but consider this, of the 450 or so current
players in the NBA, only 19 of them average 19 or more points in an entire

As for Wilt, he scored 65 or more points in a game a record 13 times, once
recorded a 55-rebound game and even led the NBA in assists one season just to
prove he could.

"Nobody seems to appreciate what an incredible player Wilt was," his greatest
rival, Celtics legend Bill Russell, said at 1997 All-Star Game when the league
honored its 50 greatest players. "He was the best player of all time because
he dominated the floor like nobody else ever could. To be that big and that
athletic was special."

Too often when people talk about the greatest in NBA history, they hand the
mantle to Michael Jordan, certainly a worthy recipient but even MJ wasn't

Jordan took 620 regular-season games to score 20,000 points and 782 to reach
25K. Wilt needed only 499 to crash the 20,000 barrier and 691 for 25K.

"When did MJ ever average 50.4 points per game plus 25.7 rebounds?" Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar once asked during a Playboy interview. "We will never accurately
know how many shots Wilt blocked. Oh, by the way in 1967 and 68, Wilt was a
league leader in assists. Did MJ ever score 100 points in a game? How many
times did MJ score more than 60 points in a game?"

In my mind, numbers could never adequately describe just what kind of impact
Chamberlain had on the game. What does is the rule changes implemented by the
league to slow him down.

The NBA widened the lane to try to keep Wilt farther away from the bucket,
instituted offensive goaltending and revised rules governing inbounding the
ball and shooting free throws, all because of Chamberlain was too dominant.
Believe it or not he was physically able to convert free throws via slam dunk
without a running start.

The NBA hasn't changed a rule because of one player since. Not for Russell or
Jordan and it certainly won't be changing things anytime soon with the intent
of slowing down Bryant or LeBron James.

No one lives forever. The goal for most of us is to create something that

Wilt's 100 turns 50 Friday -- mission accomplished.

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