Wilt Chamberlain is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He was born on August 21, 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At 7 foot 1 inch he was nicknamed Wilt the Stilt or The Big Dipper. In his illustrious career he played for the Philadelphia / San Francisco Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers. He also played for the world famous Harlem Globetrotters.
Some of Chamberlain’s achievements are outstanding. He was the only player ever to score 4,000 points in one season, and he also set NBA single-game records for most points (100), most consecutive field goals (18) and most rebounds (55).
One of the most exceptional achievements for Chamberlain is that he never fouled out in any of his games in the NBA.
Chamberlain was to study at the University of Kansas before he went on to be a professional player.
Chamberlain did not go straight into the NBA as he did not finish his final year in college, and at the time that meant he could not play in the NBA. He therefore joined the Harlem Globetrotters and played for them for a year.
Since playing for the Globetrotters, Chamberlain’s number 13 jersey has been retired.
Chamberlain finally made his NBA debut on October 24, 1959, for the Philadelphia Warriors.
His pick was highly unusual as it was meant to be a territorial pick, based on where a player had gone to college. As Chamberlain had gone to college in Kansas, and there were no local NBA teams in Kansas, the Warriors said that they had the right to draft Chamberlain based on the fact that he grew up in Philadelphia.
He had an incredible rookie season, averaging 37.6 points and 27 rebounds per game and he was the NBA Most Valuable Player. He was also the NBA Rookie of the Year. It was not, however, a completely successful rookie season for Chamberlain. The Warriors faced Bolton Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals and lost the series 4-2. This sparked off the great rivalry between Wilt Chamberlain and Celtics centre Bill Russell.
Wilt Chamberlain then shocked his fans by announcing he was thinking of making an extremely early retirement because he was tired of being double and triple-teamed and being a target for fouls.
He did not in fact retire and went on to exceed his averages of the season before. In his second season he averaged 38.4 points and 27.2 rebounds per game; he also scored over 3,000 points and broke the 2,000 rebound barrier, a feat which has never been beaten since. However, the team could not replicate the success of their star player and were beaten in the play-offs by the Syracuse Nationals, now known as the Philadelphia 76ers.
In his third season Chamberlain broke even more records. He became the first and only player to score 4,000 points in a season and only one player has ever come close to that: Michael Jordan who broke the 3,000 point barrier.
He averaged 50.4 points per game, even scoring 100 points in one game and averaged 25.7 rebounds, which led to him accumulating 2052 for the season, again getting over 2,000 rebounds.
One of the most mind-boggling statistics is that Chamberlain averaged 48.5 minutes on court that season, despite the fact that games are only usually 48 minutes long. Because Chamberlain had played overtime in games, this meant that his average exceeded the normal 48 minutes. He had played 3,882 minutes out of a possible 3,890 that season.
Chamberlain’s play-off dream was again to be ended by Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics, who beat the Warriors after a close Game 7 loss.
In 1962-63 the Warriors relocated from Philadelphia to San Francisco to become the San Francisco Warriors and Chamberlain continued to play great basketball. But despite scoring 44.8 points per game and grabbing 24.3 rebounds per game, his Warriors team did not even make the play-offs.
The following season finally saw the Warriors and Chamberlain reach the NBA Play-off Finals. The Warriors were to face the Boston Celtics again which meant Wilt Chamberlain came up against Bill Russell once more. Unfortunately for Chamberlain he was again to experience defeat to Russell’s Celtics, this time 4-1.
The fact that Russell had a 3-0 edge over Chamberlain was not a fair reflection on how the two players played. Chamberlain had offensively outplayed Russell on a statistical level in every one of their matches.
The following season saw Wilt Chamberlain traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Chamberlain was to find that his first two seasons at the 76ers were again to be plagued by the Boston Celtics and Bill Russell.
The 76ers came up against the Celtics in the 1964-65 season play-offs and they beat the 76ers 4-1 and in 1965-66, a season where he had again won the MVP award, Chamberlain was on the losing side in the play-offs in the final seconds of Game 7. This left Russell with a fifth play-off victory in 7 years over Chamberlain, a cruel statistic considering Chamberlain’s illustrious records over the years.
The next season would finally bring Wilt Chamberlain what he had craved so much in his career up to that point. The 76ers came up against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference play-off final and comfortably beat them 4-1. Finally Chamberlain had his victory over Russell and what made it even better was that the 76ers went on to win the NBA play-off final against San Francisco 4-2.
Chamberlain was also named MVP for the third time after finishing top in rebounds, third in assists and had a .683 field goal average.
In 1967-68 Chamberlain picked up his fourth and final MVP award with 24.3 points and 23.8 rebounds per game. He also became the first centre to lead the league in assists with 702 for the season.
It was inevitable that the 76ers would come up against the Boston Celtics in the play-offs. Things seemed to be going well when the 76ers led the series 3-1 but the Celtics came back and won the series in game 7. Chamberlain had a 1-6 record against the Celtics and this was to be the last season that Chamberlain played for the 76ers.
Chamberlain was traded to the Lakers for the 1968-69 season and was surrounded by controversy for his first season.
His figures for the first season reflected his decline in tallies over the years. He averaged 20.5 points and 21.1 rebounds a game and came under intense scrutiny from his coach Bill "Butch" van Breda Kolff. He accused Chamberlain of slacking in practice, not considering the team and caring only for his own statistics.
In the final game of the play-off finals against the Celtics that year, the game was close when Chamberlain twisted his ankle in the final quarter. After going off he wanted to come on towards the end but coach van Breda Kolff told him “the team are doing better without you”.
The Celtics went on to win the game 108-106. This was also to be the last season that Bill Russell played and gave him seven play-off wins out of eight against his rival Wilt Chamberlain.
In the 1969-70 season the Lakers hired Joe Mullaney as their new coach. Unfortunately the season for Wilt Chamberlain was to be short-lived. He seriously injured his knee and was out for almost the entire season.
He played only 12 times and in those games averaged 27.1 points, 18.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists. The Lakers got to the NBA play-off finals that year but in a shock result were beaten by the New York Knicks.
In the 1970-71 season Chamberlain led the league in rebounds with an average of 18.2 per game. He also averaged 20.7 points per game and 4.3 assists. It was to be a disappointing year for the Lakers as they were easily beaten in the play-offs by the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bill Shamen was the new coach of the Lakers for the 1971-72 season and he intended to turn Chamberlain into a more defence-minded post player. This resulted in Chamberlain’s lowest scoring season, averaging only 14.8 points per game. Despite having so few points Chamberlain did lead the league in the field goal percentage with .649.
During the season the Lakers went on a 33-game winning streak and finished the regular season with a then-record 69 wins.
In the post-season the Lakers made it to the NBA finals and beat the New York Knicks 4-1. This was Chamberlain’s first play-off title with the Lakers, and Chamberlain was named the Final’s MVP after averaging 19.2 points and 23.2 rebounds in the series against the Knicks.
The 1972-73 NBA season was to be Chamberlain’s last. Over the year he averaged 13.2 points and 18.6 rebounds, and was the league leader in rebounding for the 11th time in his career. In addition, he shot with an all-time NBA record .727 accuracy from the field, which beat his own record of .683 from the 1966-67 season. Neither of Chamberlain’s scores have been beaten since.
The Lakers made it to the NBA Finals again but after winning the first game against the New York Knicks they would eventually lose the series 4-1. Although not knowing it at the time, this would be Chamberlain’s last professional game.
San Diego Conquistadors
Chamberlain left the Lakers and signed for the Conquistadors as a player-coach. He was then sued by the Lakers who claimed that he still owed them the option year of his contract. This meant that Chamberlain could only coach the Conquistadors and his team went 37-47 for the regular season and lost to the Utah Stars in the play-offs.
After this season Chamberlain retired from professional basketball.
Wilt Chamberlain did not do much coaching after he retired from playing and went into business. He made money from stocks, real estate and opened a Harlem night club called Smalls Paradise. He appeared in a number of commercials and also got the chance to play a supporting role alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Conan the Destroyer.
Chamberlain suffered for a long time with heart problems and in 1992 was hospitalized for three days with an irregular heartbeat. He also had dental surgery in that year and lost an incredible 50 pounds after the operation, due to stress.
In 1999 Wilt Chamberlain died at the age of 63 after what his agent Sy Goldberg said was congestive heart failure. He also revealed that for a month prior to death, Chamberlain’s legs had to be drained of fluid which had accumulated because of his heart problem.