College Basketball Nation: Wilt Chamberlain

With all due respect, no one would confuse Kansas junior forward Justin Wesley with Wilt Chamberlain. As a sophomore, Wesley averaged 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in 8.6 minutes per game; he was Kansas's fourth option in a somewhat shallow frontcourt.

Chamberlain is one of the greatest and most dominant basketball players in history, a modern-era athletic freak plopped in a black-and-white Converse commercial, playing against guys that looked a lot more like me than Jeff Withey. It was borderline unfair.

[+] EnlargeJustin Wesley
Bob Donnan/US PresswireKansas forward Justin Wesley on playing former Kansas great Wilt Chamberlain: "It's kind of fun, like, learning the backstory."
But off the court, Wesley does somewhat resemble Chamberlain. Which is, along with his Kansas connection, precisely how Wesley landed a role playing Wilt the Stilt in a new independent film, "Jayhawkers." Directed by Kansas professor and filmmaker Kevin Willmott, it is the putative story of Chamberlain's arrival at Kansas amid the forces of segregation around him, and what his arrival did to not only change the game of basketball, but to change the rigidity of a fevered fan base's reaction to racial integration. Shooting began for the film on Aug. 15. From Fox Sports Kansas City:
"I'm mainly doing it for the history of it," explains Wesley. "The movie has a lot of controversy and that's the main reason why I'm doing it. It's kind of fun, like, learning the backstory -- to be a part of that is so exciting.

"The backstory of the movie is the different reasons that Phog wanted Wilt here, (while) the chancellor (Franklin Murphy) wanted Wilt here to change segregation in Lawrence. He felt like Wilt would change the whole outlook (of the city), and Phog wanted him to change basketball."

Based on stills from the film -- which you can see here -- Wesley seems to have nailed Chamberlain's look. Inhabiting a famous performance might prove more difficult, and that's only if the film gets made in the first place. Barbara O. Chamberlain-Lewis has attempted to stop the creation of the film on behalf of the Chamberlain family, arguing Willmott doesn't have the rights to portray Chamberlain. From the Lawrence Journal-World:
Acting on behalf of the Chamberlain family, Chamberlain-Lewis has told Willmott that he does not have the rights to the film, but Willmott said his entertainment lawyers have told him otherwise.

“There’s an issue with her, but it’s not an issue with us,” Willmott said. [...] “Our entertainment lawyer told us we didn’t need the rights,” he said. “It’s an ensemble film. Wilt’s not the main character, so it’s no longer necessary to buy the rights.”

Reached at the Las Vegas home she shares with husband Elzie Lewis, Chamberlain-Lewis said, “What shocks me is back in 2003 Kevin was so respectful of the rights we have. I’m so disappointed he has completely ignored his lack of rights to do this.”

Perhaps it's fitting a film about a controversial chapter in Kansas's rich basketball history has been subject to controversy of its own. Or maybe this is just what happens when you make a movie with an ostensibly famous character or characters; after all, Facebook couldn't have shut down "The Social Network" even if it had tried.

Either way, best of luck to Wesley. Acting is hard enough. Portraying the most famous player in his own school's history -- that's a challenge all to its own.

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