Wilt Chamberlain Biography
Wilton Norman "Wilt" Chamberlain was a professional basketball player who played for three teams during his 14-season NBA career. Chamberlain had a successful career, winning two NBA titles, earning four regular-season Most Valuable Player awards, the Rookie of the Year award, one NBA Finals MVP award, and being selected to 13 All-Star Games and ten All-NBA First and Second teams. Chamberlain was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978, elected into the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team of 1980, and chosen as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History of 1996.
Although his accomplishments were often credited to his size, he was a marvelous athlete who possessed strength, stamina and speed. He could score on slam dunks, finger rolls and fallaway jumpers. His rivalry with Boston Celtics center Bill Russell is considered to be one of the greatest in professional sports history.
One of nine children, Wilton Norman Chamberlain was born on Aug. 21, 1936, in Philadelphia. Though his first sports love was track, he was more talented in basketball. His Overbrook High School teams went 56-3 in his three varsity seasons, going undefeated the final two years to win city championships. Averaging 37.4 points, he broke Tom Gola's Philadelphia high school scoring record with 2,206 points.
In November 1955, early in Chamberlain's freshman year at Kansas, the NBA decided his professional future. In an unprecedented move, the league allowed the Warriors to claim him as a territorial pick. The logic was he was a resident of Philadelphia. (Until then, territorial picks were devoted solely to college players.) Chamberlain would be eligible to play for the Warriors when his college class graduated in 1959.
Chamberlain's debut for the Kansas varsity in 1956 was spectacular; he set a school record by scoring 52 points. A first-team All-American, he led the Jayhawks into the NCAA final. But Kansas came up short, losing 54-53 to undefeated North Carolina in three overtimes. Chamberlain was voted the most outstanding player of the Final Four.
The next season, he was again an All-American. Though he averaged 29.9 points and 18.9 rebounds in his two years, he was weary of being double- and triple-teamed. He also wanted to be paid. So he joined the Harlem Globetrotters for a season.
After his frustrating junior year, Chamberlain wanted to become a professional player before finishing his senior year. However, at that time, the NBA did not accept players who had not finished their last year of studies. Therefore, Chamberlain was prohibited from joining the NBA for a year, and decided to play for the Harlem Globetrotters in 1958 for a sum of $50,000.
Chamberlain became a member of the Globetrotters team which made history by playing in Moscow in 1959, enjoyed a sold out tour of the USSR and prior to the start of a game at Moscow's Lenin Central Stadium, were greeted by the General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. One particular Trotter skit involved Trotters captain Meadowlark Lemon collapsing to the ground, and instead of helping him up, Chamberlain threw him several feet high up in the air and caught him like a doll. "[Chamberlain] was the strongest athlete who ever lived", the 210-pound Lemon recounted later. In later years, Chamberlain frequently joined the Trotters in the off-season and fondly recalled his time there, because he was no longer jeered at or asked to break records, but just one of several artists who loved to entertain the crowd. On March 9, 2000, Chamberlain's number 13 was retired by the Trotters.
Chamberlain became a Warrior in 1959 and made his presence felt from the opening game with 43 points and 28 rebounds. He led the league in scoring (37.6 points per game) and rebounding (27) and became the first player to win MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season.
Chamberlain repeated as scoring and rebounding champion in his second and third seasons. In 1960-61, he became the first player to score 3,000 points in a season, netting 3,033 to average 38.4.
But it's what Chamberlain accomplished in 1961-62 that likely will never be surpassed. That's when he averaged his 48.5 minutes (the Warriors played 10 overtime periods and he played all but eight of 3,890 minutes that season) and 50.4 points, becoming the only player to crack the 4,000-point barrier (he had 4,029).
Chamberlain scored 78 points (in three overtimes) in one game and 73 points a month later. Though these were the two highest scoring NBA games at the time, they were merely warm-up acts. On March 2, 1962, Wilt scored 100 in a 169-147 victory over the Knicks at Hershey, Pa. After scoring 41in the first half, Chamberlain got 28 in the third period and 31 in the fourth quarter. He made 36-of-63 field goals and, incredibly, converted 28-of-32 foul shots.
Before the next season the Warriors, who had the league's top gate attraction in Chamberlain, moved to San Francisco. Wilt won another scoring title (44.8 points) and rebounding crown (24.3).
Philadelphia 76ers (1965-68)
At the 1965 All-Star break, Chamberlain was traded by the financially strapped Warriors back to Philadelphia (the Syracuse Nats had moved there and taken the name 76ers) for Paul Neumann, Connie Dierking, Lee Shaffer and cash.
The 1966-67 season belonged to the 76ers, who started 46-4 on the way to 68-13. Coach Alex Hannum convinced Chamberlain that with all the other talented scorers on the team, he should focus his talents more on other aspects of the game. Wilt's scoring average dipped to 24.3, but he led the league in rebounding (24.2), finished third in assists (7.8) and played terrific defense. The 76ers manhandled the Celtics in the East finals and then defeated San Francisco in six games in the Finals.
In 1967-68, Chamberlain earned his third straight MVP, leading the league in assists (8.6), rebounding (23.8), field-goal percentage (.595) and finishing third in scoring (24.3). But after the 76ers blew a 3-1 lead in the East finals to Boston, Chamberlain was traded that summer to the Lakers for Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff.
Los Angeles Lakers (1968-73)
Chamberlain joined a squad which featured Hall-of-Fame forward Elgin Baylor and Hall-of-Fame guard Jerry West. In the 1969 Finals, the Lakers entered the series as 3-to-1 favorites, the Lakers won their first two games, but dropped the next two. Chamberlain was criticized as a non-factor in the series, getting neutralized by Bill Russell with little effort. But in Game 5, the Lakers center started to come to life, scoring 13 points and grabbing 31 rebounds, helping to lead Los Angeles to a 117-104 win. In Game 6, the Celtics won 99-90, and Chamberlain only scored eight points. Chambelain twisted his knee late in a tight Game 7 loss.
In his second Lakers year under new coach Joe Mullaney, Chamberlain experienced his third straight season-ender in a seventh game. Willis Reed famously hobbled up court, scored the first four points, and inspired his team to one of the most famous playoff upsets of all time.
In the 1971 NBA Finals, Chamberlain dueled freshly-crowned MVP Lew Alcindor, better known under his later Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and veteran Hall-of-Fame guard Oscar Robertson in the Western Conference Finals. Although Chamberlain lost, he was lauded for holding his own against MVP Abdul-Jabbar, who was not only 10 years younger but still had two healthy knees.
In the 1971-72 season, the Lakers hired former Celtics star guard Bill Sharman as head coach. Sharman introduced morning shoot-arounds, in which the perennial latecomer Chamberlain regularly participated (in contrast to earlier years with Dolph Schayes) and transformed him into a defensive-minded, low-scoring post defender in the mold of his old rival Bill Russell. Chamberlain accepted his new roles and posted an all-time low 14.8 points, but also won the rebound crown with 19.2 rpg and led the league with a .649 field goal percentage. The Lakers would embark on an unprecedented 33-game win streak en route to a then-record 69 wins in the regular season. In the 1972 NBA Finals, the Lakers again met the New York Knicks. In Game 5, Chamberlain scored 24 points, 29 rebounds, and helped the L.A. Lakers win their first championship with a decisive 114-100 win. Chamberlain was named Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals.
The 1972-73 NBA season was Chamberlain's last. The Lakers won 60 games in the regular season and reached the 1973 NBA Finals against the New York Knicks. This time, the tables were turned: the Knicks now featured a healthy team with a rejuvenated Willis Reed, and the Lakers were now handicapped by several injuries.
In 1973, the San Diego Conquistadors of the American Basketball Association signed Chamberlain as a player-coach. But a Lakers' lawsuit blocked Chamberlain from playing (he owed the team the option year on his contract) though the judge allowed him to become basketball's biggest coach. Chamberlain went 37-47 in his one season as coach.
After his basketball career, Chamberlain played volleyball in the short-lived International Volleyball Association, was president of this organization and enshrined in the IVA Hall of Fame for his contributions. Chamberlain was also a successful businessman, authored several books and appeared in the movie "Conan the Destroyer."
In 1991, in his biography "A View From Above," Chamberlain devoted an entire chapter to sex. He claimed to have slept with close to 20,000 women, or an average of 1.2 women per day every day since he turned 15 years old.
A lifelong bachelor, Chamberlain died on October 12, 1999, in his Bel Air, Calif., home. Chamberlain had been treated for an irregular heartbeat in 1992 and was on medication to treat the condition.