|Wilt to MJ: Can we talk trade?|
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist
Editor's note: Michael Jordan needs 17 points over his final four games to hold onto his NBA all-time scoring average lead over Wilt Chamberlain. Jordan has averaged 30.2 points through 1068 games. Chamberlain averaged 30.1 over 1045.
The great ones move among us, but they are not of us. Theirs is a special world, a parallel universe. In their world, men are not bound by gravity, and they are not scripted by time. In their world, figures are fluid, channels are open, bodies and minds flow freely, and events and images layer, echo and coalesce.
And so it is that, like Buddhas gliding along the space-time continuum, the great ones counsel and kid each other from one era to another, speaking their shared language, chatting each other up like they were sitting side-by-side.
Bob Pettit hovers just over Tracy McGrady's shoulder some nights, whisper-urging him to stay squared and follow through. Oscar Robertson and Kobe talk turnaround and give-and-go while the young Laker sleeps. And Pistol Pete throws a little smack AI's way when the mustard comes off the hot dog on a drive to the hole -- that chided smile and headshake Allen does sometimes? That's for Maravich.
It goes on all the time.
And it was going on last night, just outside the Washington Wizards' practice facility, when Wilt Chamberlain came calling on MJ …
Wilt: How are the knees?
MJ: What the? A warning would be nice, maybe catch me at the office? I hate when you go all Marley on me.
Wilt: 'Cause I could do a little "Get Up, Stand Up" for you. In fact, you guys are ... what, two-and-a-half back with four to play going into tonight -- you might need a little "don't give up the fight." You think Kwame's got any Irie in him?
MJ: He might, but Doug doesn't.
Wilt: Speaking of Doug, nice to see the way he's limited your minutes this year.
MJ: Couldn't be helped.
Wilt: Not by Doug, anyway.
MJ: You're funny.
Wilt: So listen, whatever happens, I came to say congratulations on the all-time scoring average record, which you ought to put away in the first half against Miami tonight. Major achievement. Remarkable consistency.
MJ: Well, I'll say this: I ain't dead yet.
Wilt: That supposed to hurt? 'Cause it does ... a little.
MJ: No, no, no. I'm just saying I've got four games to play, and we've still got a shot, albeit a slim one, and I'm not thinking about the record, and I never have thought about it.
Wilt: You see a mic in my hand? Do I look like a classroom full of school kids to you? Fess up ... you wanted this thing.
MJ: Really haven't thought about it.
Wilt: It's OK to want the record, Michael.
MJ: I know it is.
Wilt: No, really, it's OK to want it.
MJ: I know it is.
Wilt: It's OK.
MJ: What is this, "Good Will Hunting"? You gonna hug me now?
Wilt: People want you to want it. People like good, naked ambition. They admire hunger that barrels down the tracks relentless and right on time. Most of them have made compromises and backed off of risks in their own lives. They want to know the pure, undeterred dogs of want are hunting out there somewhere, and they see those dogs on the hunt in your eyes.
MJ: Relax. It's just a number.
Wilt: 20,000 is just a number. 45, that was just a number. 30.2 ain't a number, it's a legacy. It's an outright claim. And I'll tell you, people don't just want you to want it, they want you to have it. It confirms what they believe. With it, you're the greatest player to ever play the game. You know, Paul brings Perry Mason a stat sheet, Perry submits "PPG: 30.2" as exhibit A, Della smiles knowingly from behind the table, case closed.
Without it, it's not that you won't still be thought of as the best ever, it's that the claim won't roll so free and easy off folks' tongues; it's that they'll know there's a chink in the armor somewhere, a crack in the seal. And it'll trouble them a little, make them wonder and worry about the difference between believing and knowing something is true. Folks don't need that kind of metaphysical workout, Mike. They need hard, raw data. They need the truth of 30.2.
MJ: You want me to have it?
Wilt: Hell no, I don't want you to have it. It should still be me in the top spot. No, I don't want you to have it, I just want you to know what it is you have.
MJ: And I do have it, don't I? And I'll have it at the end of tonight. And I'll have it three games from now, and for the foreseeable future. That's about the size of it, am I right?
Wilt: Damn. Welcome back.
MJ: Thank you. Never went anywhere.
Wilt: Birmingham ring a bell?
MJ: No, seriously, you are funny.
Wilt: Would you say I'm maybe one-tenth of a point funnier than you are?
MJ: Can't say I would, no. So what would you say is your favorite number?
Wilt: I'll take 22.9, my career rebound average. 30.1 just doesn't have the appeal it once did. You?
MJ: I'm partial to six. The thing about six is, it's a number people -- schoolteachers, dockworkers, school kids, grandmas and whoever else you want to name -- will remember. It's a simple number, it's an A.A. Milne number -- elementary -- but it contains whole stories and seasons. It's my number, it's Scottie's and Phil's, and …
Wilt: And the Jerrys'?
MJ: Like I said, it's my number, and Scottie's and Phil's. You want to talk legacy, talk six.
Wilt: Yeah, six is real nice. Can't touch six. You got it all over me with six.
MJ: There is something you have that I want, though.
Wilt: What's that? You need a phone number?
MJ: No, that gold headband you used to wear, the one with the thin strap in the back. Always liked that. Thought maybe I could wear it on the last night of the season. You know, a nod in your direction, an invocation of the tradition, that kind of thing.
Wilt: That's mighty generous of you.
MJ: Yeah, a one-tenth-of-a-point edge brings out the best in me.
Wilt: Nice. You didn't care about this record, right?
MJ: Never thought about it. So what do you say? Spare a headband?
Wilt: Could do, in trade.
MJ: You can't have the tenth.
Wilt: Right, that might jam up the tribute angle, though wouldn't a tie be nice?
MJ: Ask Selig.
Wilt: Fair enough.
MJ: So what's the trade?
Wilt: I want one of those Wizards dresses Mariah wore at the All-Star Game.
MJ: She had that made special -- there's only one as far as I know -- plus it wouldn't flatter your hips. I could hook you up with a Bullets 23 throwback jersey, though.
Wilt: Can we make it XXL?
MJ: No problem.
Wilt: Can we get Mariah to model it?
MJ: For the second-most-prolific scorer of all time? Feels like a stretch.
Wilt: You're a hard man.
MJ: People like that, right?
Wilt: Touché. So, other than the headband, you thought about how you're going to go about it?
MJ: What do you mean?
Wilt: I mean, don't stumble to the finish line, man. I mean, drop a mean 30 or so on Pat and the Heat tonight. Let there be no doubt. Put me away. I'll have that sweet jersey and dreams of Mariah to fall back on; I'll survive.
MJ: I hear you. I'll tell you what I'm thinking about, if we get knocked out of the playoffs early …
MJ: You're a hard man.
Wilt: Good of you to say.
MJ: So, assuming we're out, I'm thinking about going 0-for-0 on the last night. Thinking about maybe 17 assists. Thinking about a huge night for Ty Lue, tons of easy buckets for Kwame, and open looks all game for Laettner.
Wilt: I like that. I did the assist thing for a stretch once. Satisfying.
MJ: Yeah, a stretch called 1968.
Wilt: You remember?
MJ: I've done my homework.
Wilt: It shows. So, seriously, how are the knees?
MJ: How do you think they are? I'm 40, for chrissakes.
Wilt: 40. Now that's a number.
Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.