Officially, and somewhat cruelly, according to the NBA’s record-keeping Wilt Chamberlain never registered a block in his NBA career. The NBA didn’t begin to record blocks as an official stat until the 1973-74 season, a year that saw Chamberlain sometimes deciding to show up for work as head coach of the ABA’s San Diego Conquistadors, after courts ruled the big man would have to sit out the entire season after Wilt attempted to jump from league to league as a player. After a frustrating season, mostly coached by Stan Albeck in Chamberlain’s absence, Wilt decided to retire from the game.
The NBA, now block-conscious, moved on. Elmore Smith set the record for most blocks in a game in that first season with 17. Hakeem Olajuwon went on to record the all-time mark in blocks with 3830. Wilt and contemporary Bill Russell, by then a color commentator with ABC, were left with no such numbers next to their legendary names.
All we have left is the video, that grainy video from a league that was barely on TV during Wilt’s Hall of Fame career, of Wilt Chamberlain doing amazing things on the defensive end of the court. Watch:
Late in the clip you can see Chamberlain clearing a high jump bar at the exact height of Michael Jordan, without the benefit of the Fosbury Flop. Unreal, for someone at 7-2.
Wilt’s longtime combatant and eventual close friend Bill Russell is often credited as the stronger defensive force. And it’s true, that with a collection of similarly defensive-minded teammates that Russell’s teams usually downed Wilt’s Warrior, 76er, and Laker squads. Russell probably would have collected more blocks in his NBA career had the league deigned to note such rejections, but Russell wasn’t asked to lead the NBA in scoring every season – as Wilt was.
Fans showed up to see Chamberlain dip his way toward 100 points every night out – so much so that in a form of protest, just about, Wilt decided to go ahead and lead the NBA in total assists (if not assists per game) in 1967-68. And this was back when assists were only counted if the pass led directly to a quick basket.
Those who don’t respect the work of Hakeem Olajuwon just shouldn’t be allowed to act as basketball fans, the man was a towering defensive presence who also ranks as the greatest center of all time when it comes to grabbing steals. Russell and Chamberlain would rank as number one and number two in all time blocks by a wide margin, though, had the NBA counted the stat. They were modern players in a game played several generations ago, a game with lower percentage shooting marks, and far more possessions than today’s game, or the one that Olajuwon played from 1984 to 2002.
It wouldn’t even be close. If you don’t believe me, check out the all-time rebounding disparity.
A brilliant athlete, that Wilt. Chamberlain’s versatility at that position remains unmatched, some 40 years after his retirement.
(Thanks to SB Nation, among others, for tossing this clip amongst the Twitter rounds on Monday.)