Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game made history, but never defined the Hall of Fame center
Fifty years to the day after Wilt Chamberlain’s epic 100-point game, the basketball world has gathered to celebrate the Hall of Famer and one of sports’ greatest records. Chamberlain’s former Philadelphia Warriors teammate, Al Attles, will celebrate the historic event in Hershey, Pa., site of the game. Chamberlain’s sister will be in attendance when the Golden State Warriors visit the Philadelphia 76ers in commemoration of the anniversary. And a San Francisco bar even has organized a watch party for the Warriors-Sixers game in honor of Wilt.
Truth be told, if Chamberlain were alive, he probably wouldn’t be too happy with all the attention.
“You know what, I think he’d be a little embarrassed,” said former New York Knicks guard Richie Guerin, who played against Chamberlain in the 100-point game. “He was a little embarrassed that night, to be honest.”
On March 2, 1962, Chamberlain and the playoff-bound Warriors were scheduled to play a home game against the struggling Knicks in Hershey instead of back home, 85 miles away in Philadelphia. Chamberlain lived in New York and drove down early to the Hershey Sports Arena with two Knicks. While waiting for the Warriors to arrive, Chamberlain played pinball in the arena’s arcade. Knicks forward Dave Budd and center Darrall Imhoff walked into the building to find Chamberlain setting his first record of the night.
“He was scoring big time,” Budd said. “When you get so many thousand points, you get a free game, and he had eight free games on the pinball machine.”
The Knicks were missing their starting center, Phil Jordon, who stayed back at the hotel because he was suffering the effects of the flu and “another late night,” author Gary M. Pomerantz wrote in “WILT, 1962,” the definitive book about the game. That forced New York to start the 6-foot-10 Imhoff to start against the 7-2 Chamberlain. Imhoff eventually fouled out of the game, and the Knicks didn’t have anyone bigger than 6-9 to guard Chamberlain.
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Chamberlain scored 23 points in the first quarter to push the Warriors to a 42-26 lead. A notoriously bad free-throw shooter, he surprisingly made all nine of his foul shots. Warriors coach Frank McGuire had predicted earlier that season that Chamberlain would someday score 100. After watching Chamberlain’s perfect free-throw shooting in the opening quarter, Guerin figured “someday” could arrive sooner than expected.
“We come back to the bench,” Budd said, “and I never forget Richie says, ‘The big fella is going for 100 tonight.’ ”
After scoring 28 points in the third quarter, Chamberlain had 69 points for the game, including 21 on 22 free-throw attempts – a remarkable percentage that might have been aided by what Attles said were “soft” rims. The Warriors were ahead comfortably, 125-106, going into the final quarter, but it was clear McGuire wanted Chamberlain to make a run at history. The Warriors even fouled the Knicks in the backcourt to preserve the clock before getting the ball back in Chamberlain’s hands.
“They fouled us unnecessarily in the second half, so they can get the ball back offensively – more than the normal way it should be played,” Guerin said. “Why would you deliberately go out and foul somebody in the backcourt – or wherever – if you lead by 15 points, if you aren’t trying to accomplish something? I didn’t take it very nicely at all.
“I mentioned it to a couple of vet players who were playing. I said it to the referees. I was deliberately trying to foul some of the Philadelphia guys, so I could get out of the game because I was disgusted the way the things were going on.”
Guerin and Attles said Chamberlain wanted out of the eventual 169-147 blowout when it was apparent the Warriors would win. But with many of the 4,124 fans chanting, “Give it to Wilt,” McGuire kept his star center in the game.
“I don’t know what the [time] was, but [Chamberlain] was trying to get out of the game,” Attles said. “Frank McGuire wouldn’t take him out.”
Chamberlain reached the 100-point mark on a dunk with 46 seconds left, a watershed moment in sports history that, like the rest of the game, wasn’t filmed. Some fans ran onto the floor to celebrate, delaying the end of the game. When it was over, Chamberlain had made 36 of his 63 shots and 28 of his 32 free throws. Yet he didn’t take much pride from the performance.
“The guy that had the toughest time with it was Wilt,” Attles said. “We were in the locker room and I was sitting next to him. He used to sweat profusely. He has his stat sheet and he’s raining down water, shaking his head. I said, ‘Big fella, what’s the matter?’ He said, ‘I’d never take 63 shots in a game.’ I said, ‘But you made 36, that’s a good percentage any time.’
“He still struggled with it.”
Barbara Lewis-Chamberlain was living in Seattle on the night her brother scored 100. Initially shocked by the news, she received confirmation from a television report. She walked two miles to a grocery store to use a pay phone so she could call her parents to learn more about the game.
Lewis-Chamberlain said she didn’t talk to her brother about the game for “several years” because he didn’t want to discuss it. When he finally did, he told her, “I knew everything I did that day just was fantastic. I couldn’t do anything wrong.”
Still, she also sensed her brother never really embraced his performance. Years earlier, she remembered her brother feeling the same way after he’d scored 90 points for Philadelphia Overbrook High School against Roxborough.
“He just wanted to get out because he felt like he was embarrassing the other team,” Lewis-Chamberlain said. “Both times he wasn’t let out of the game.”
For years, Guerin remained angry about how the record was set. He finally spoke to Chamberlain at the 1987 All-Star game in Seattle about his feelings.
“I sat down with Wilt, and I always thought he was a fine gentleman and a great basketball player,” Guerin said. “I wanted to clear the air if any clearing of the air had to be done. He said it didn’t bother him at all any of the comments that I made. He understood. It wasn’t a personal thing.
“You take pride in what you do. At that particular time, the Knicks weren’t that good of a team, but we competed and did the best we could. Nobody wants to be embarrassed.”
Asked if the 100-point game deserves an asterisk, Guerin says, “No. He scored the 100 points. Regardless to how his other teammates got him the ball, he contributed and made it.”
Chamberlain died on Oct. 12, 1999, at age 63. Lewis-Chamberlain says the record her brother actually cherished the most was his 55-rebound game against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics on Nov. 24, 1960. Like Guerin, she also wonders if her brother would have a hard time accepting all the attention given to the 50th anniversary of the 100-point game.
“I think he always felt a little embarrassed about the whole thing,” she said. “But being older, I think he would have embraced anything they said because usually by the time you have gotten out of basketball and you’re in your 70s, they don’t know who you are.”
The sports world won’t forget Chamberlain – or that night – anytime soon. Fifty years after Wilt reached 100, the closest anyone has come to matching the performance was the 81 points Kobe Bryant scored against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006.
“It’s never been challenged and probably never will be,” Budd said. “I think this is one record like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak that will never be approached.”
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