Chamberlain, Wilt

Chamberlain, Wilt (1936-1999), African American professional basketball player who won seven consecutive National Basketball Association (NBA) scoring titles from 1960 to 1966 and is the NBA's second all-time leading scorer after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Chamberlain revolutionized the game of basketball, inspiring rule changes and creating a premium role for the big-scoring and rebounding center. Over 14 seasons in the NBA, "Wilt the Stilt"—or, as he preferred, "The Big Dipper"—averaged 30.1 points a game, second only to Michael Jordan. In the 1961-1962 season, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points a game. He scored 100 points in a single game against the New York Knickerbockers, played on March 2, 1963, in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

He was born Wilton Norman Chamberlain in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Chamberlain, a custodian, and Olivia Chamberlain, a domestic worker and laundress. Heralded as the best prep player in the nation, Chamberlain led his Overbrook High School team to a 58-3 record and two city championships. The Philadelphia Warriors claimed future draft rights to Chamberlain upon his high school graduation.

Scoring 52 points in his 1956 college debut for the University of Kansas, Chamberlain led the Jayhawks to a 24-3 record and the national finals. Chamberlain, who quickly became known as the predominant college player of his era, won All-America honors his sophomore and junior years—which were his first two years playing for Kansas. Although known for his surpassing height (7 ft 1 in), it was Chamberlain's all-around athletic skills that made him a premier performer. He lettered in track and field at Kansas, setting a school record in the high jump, and was courted by managers hoping to convert his interests to boxing or football. Increasingly frustrated by opposing teams’ stalling tactics and other schemes to limit his effectiveness, Chamberlain passed up his senior year to play a season for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Chamberlain played for the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors from 1959 to 1961, the Golden State Warriors from 1962 to 1965, the Philadelphia 76ers from 1965 to 1968, and the Los Angeles Lakers from 1968 to 1973. He won the league's most valuable player (MVP) award in 1960, 1966, 1967, and 1968 and played on the All-Star team every year of his career except 1970. In addition to his prolific scoring (31,419 points for his career, the first player to pass 30,000), Chamberlain is also the leading rebounder in NBA history (23,924 total, or an average 22.9 a game). He led the league in that category for 11 seasons and set the single game mark with 55 rebounds.

Chamberlain won championships with the 76ers in 1967 and the Lakers in 1972. Although his archrival Bill Russell won more championships with the Boston Celtics, Chamberlain bested Russell in terms of individual statistics. In 142 head-to-head games, Chamberlain out rebounded Russell 95 times and averaged 28.8 points a game to Russell's 14.5.

Responding to the charge that he played selfishly, Chamberlain retooled his game late in his career, placing greater emphasis on passing and defense. He led the NBA in assists in 1967-1968 and was named to the league All-Defensive team in 1972 and 1973. The only part of the game at which Chamberlain did not excel was foul shooting, averaging a lowly 54 percent for his career.

Chamberlain was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. He helped found the International Volleyball Association and sponsored several Southern California track teams. He remained in the public eye after retiring from basketball, appearing in television commercials and movies and writing a 1991 memoir, A View from Above, that described his colorful bachelor life in his self-designed house in Bel Air, California.

 

Contributed By:
John Gennari