OAKLAND, Calif. – Al Attles’ favorite memory of Wilt Chamberlain is the most obvious: The legendary 100-point game Chamberlain produced for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962. But Attles also remembers being on hand just days earlier when Chamberlain – his former teammate – set an NBA record with 34 free-throw attempts on Feb. 22, 1962.
Attles never expected either record to be broken in his lifetime. But there he was Thursday night, watching at Oracle Arena as Dwight Howard stepped to the foul line time and again in the Orlando Magic's 117-109 victory over the Golden State Warriors. When Howard was done, he had taken an astounding 39 free throws, smashing Chamberlain's 50-year-old regular-season record.
“I knew he was shooting a lot of free throws,” said Attles, who now works as an ambassador for the Warriors. "But I didn’t know he had that many.”
Howard entered Thursday as the NBA’s worst free-throw shooter this season, making just 42.6 percent of his attempts. First-year Warriors coach Mark Jackson figured the odds were in his favor, so he had his players intentionally foul Howard – Hack-A-Howard – early in the first half and throughout the rest of the game. Howard made 21 of his 39 attempts – 53.8 percent – and finshed with 45 points and 23 rebounds. It was the first time an NBA player had at least 40 points and 20 rebounds in a game since former Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal totaled 48 points and 20 boards against the Boston Celtics on March 1, 2003.
Howard, 26, said he was humbled to break Chamberlain's record. He has idolized Chamberlain even though he never met the Hall of Fame center before his death in 1999. Howard said he watched several of Chamberlain's games on NBA TV during the lockout and also read a couple of his books.
“He was dominant by basically doing everything on the court,” Howard said. “He passed the ball, he ran the floor, he blocked shots. He was a great person off the court. He dominated the game.”
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Several Magic players snickered in the locker room afterward about Jackson’s decision to continuously foul Howard. Jason Richardson called it a “bad strategy.” Jackson said he had his players hack the 6-foot-11 All-Star because Howard is a poor foul shooter and the Warriors are undersized after losing center Kwame Brown for three months to a pectoral muscle tear. Jackson also wanted to limit the shots the Magic's many 3-point shooters received.
Howard made half of his 18 free throws in the first two quarters as the Warriors held a 57-53 lead. Jackson continued to have his players foul Howard in the second half. Howard surpassed Chamberlain’s record with 3:56 left in the fourth quarter to give Orlando a 104-101 lead. Howard said the Warriors' attempts at “slowing the game down” by fouling him helped the Magic rally after trailing by as many as 13 points.
“He’s a great player and a bad free-throw shooter,” said Jackson, whose team would like to trade for Howard. “To give ourselves the best chance possible, we tried to mess up their rhythm and take the 3-point shooters away – which we did. But they made plays.”
Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy scoffed at his assistants when they suggested the team should diversify its offense beyond throwing the ball to Howard in the post.
“I’m looking at them like, 'We’re not going to run a play. He’s going to foul him,’ " Van Gundy said. "What are we going to bother with diagramming a play? Make the free throw, play some defense."
The Warriors had 36 personal fouls, including six apiece from center Andris Biedrins and power forward David Lee and five from forward Ekpe Udoh. Howard said he told Jackson he was going to foul out all of the Warriors' big men. Jackson, a former point guard in the league, told Howard he'd suit up, too, if he could.
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“I just wanted to win the game,” Howard said. “I just tried to be aggressive and get to the line. I didn’t care if I missed 30. I was going to shoot the next one that came.”
Like Howard, Chamberlain also was a poor free-throw shooter, making just 51.1 percent of his attempts during his career. Attles said Chamberlain often changed his form.
“He just tried everything he possibly could, but some nights it just didn’t go in," Attles said. "He’d get frustrated and, of course, teams would foul him.
"He tried every way: underhand, overhand, two hands, one hand, one side of the line, the other side of the lane – even the back of the 3-point line."
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- Wilt Chamberlain