PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Big Dipper was larger than life. His size, his statistics, even his voracious appetite for running up big numbers off the court.
Wilt Chamberlain didn’t just tower over his peers, he left records that endured for decades.
And for 50 years, one mighty number has stood as the Mount Everest of sport’s magic numbers.
At 25, Chamberlain had already crafted a career built on steady, sustained and spectacular excellence. Playing at 7-foot-1 and 260 pounds for the Philadelphia Warriors, Chamberlain held the single-game record of 78 points (in three overtimes) and the regulation mark of 73 in January 1962.
One hundred points was no flash of momentary greatness. It was a fireball of scoring that will likely never be topped — and put Chamberlain everywhere from the record book, to “The Ed Sullivan Show,” to an unmatched spot in the short list of sport’s all-time unbelievable performances.
But on March 2, 1962 at the Hershey Sports Arena, hardly anyone noticed.
There were no TV cameras. Sports writers were scarce — and so were the fans. Only 4,124 (at $2.50 a ticket) attended the game, in fact, between the Warriors and the New York Knicks as the final stretch of the 1961-62 season dwindled down. The number of people who claimed they were there to witness history, however, could have stretched the East Coast.
And why not? The milestone, after all, changed the game forever.
“The 100-point game was a hyperbolic announcement of the rise of the black athlete in basketball,” said author Gary Pomerantz, who wrote the complete narrative of that game in the 2005 book, “WILT, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era.
No NBA star has really come close to scoring 100 points. Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant had the luxury of the 3-point shot (he hit seven) when he scored 81 on Jan. 22, 2006. Michael Jordan never topped 69. Allen Iverson hit 60. David Robinson scored 10 less field goals than Chamberlain made in the 100-point game when he scored 71 in 1994.
“I’d hate to try and break it myself,” Chamberlain said, according to Pomerantz’s book.
Chamberlain played all 48 minutes in Philadelphia’s 169-147 win over the Knicks. He shot 36 of 63 from the floor and an un-Wilt like 28 of 32 from the free-throw line. Chamberlain, a woeful 51.1 percent career shooter from the line, attempted his free throws underhand against the Knicks.
“I personally don’t think it will ever happen again,” said Chamberlain’s Warriors’ teammate, Al Attles. “I don’t know if a team will allow it to happen now.”
Oh, the game came during a season when Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points a game.
“I played one game where he got 78 points and we lost,” Attles said. “The guy got 50 regularly. It wasn’t that big a deal.”
At least not through the first three quarters, when Chamberlain scored 69.
While 100 is tough to imagine, think about this: Warriors public address announcer Dave Zinkoff would state the point total to the crowd as the number swelled in the fourth. When Chamberlain broke his own mark, Zinkoff told the fans, “Ladies and gentleman, a new scoring record has been created by Wilt Chamberlain!”
“Then we all realized that this was going to happen,” said Tom Meschery, who scored 16 that night for the Warriors. “It was comical, because from that point on, all the shots went to Wilt, all the passes went to Wilt and everybody on the Knicks team tried to get the ball to anybody except Wilt.”
After more than 250 interviews with players, fans, officials and journalists, Pomerantz described the 100-point basket:
“(Joe) Rucklick flipped the pass perfectly, high and into the middle. The Dipper caught it in front of the basket, only inches away, and rose high above the Knicks, high above the rim. (Announcer) Bill Campbell, energized, made his own loud barking sound, husky, yet clear, “He made it! He made it! He made it! A Dipper Dunk!”
“Wilt tried to come out of the game before he got the 100 points. But (coach) Frank McGuire would not take him out,” Attles said. “Wilt wasn’t the kind of guy to say, `OK, I’m tired take me out.’ He’d listen to the coach. And Frank McGuire acted like he couldn’t hear him. He just turned. But unbeknownst to us, he had made a pact with Wilt when Wilt first got there that Wilt was going to average 50 points a game and one day score 100. And he averaged 50. And, of course, a 100-point game was absolutely incredible.”
It was incredible — and pressed Harvey Pollack into service.
Pollack started the night as the public relations director for the Warriors and the game statistician. With each milestone basket putting Chamberlain closer to triple digits, Pollack knew his job titles were about to expand. He wrote or dictated the game story for The Associated Press, The Philadelphia Inquirer and United Press International.
His son, Ron, who now joins Pollack on the Philadelphia 76ers statistics crew, ran the copy to Western Union. When the game was over, Pollack stuffed the game ball — it is now lost — into Chamberlain’s duffel bag and organized a famed photo.
AP photographer Paul Vathis, who attended the game as a fan, rushed to a car for his equipment. Pollack said he squashed an idea of posing Chamberlain with the ball and wanted something more unique to preserve the moment.
“Why don’t we do something to show the 100 points,” Pollack said.
So Pollack, who turns 90 in March, wrote “100” on a piece of paper and gave it to Chamberlain to hold for the classic black-and-white snapshot.
Outside of a few still photos, it was nearly the lone remembrance of the game.
Campbell called Wilt’s classic for WCAU and was startled after the game by more than just the whopping point total. He saw Chamberlain hitch a ride back to New York (where he lived) in a Cadillac with members of the Knicks. And, he had a fearful realization on his own ride home.
“All of sudden it dawned on me, a guy just scored 100 points in a game and I didn’t even tape it, Campbell said.
Campbell was bailed out by a fan who recorded the fourth quarter at home and preserved the historic call.
“If it happened today, everyone would go bananas,” Campbell said. “There was a certain excitement about it, but nobody went completely stir crazy about it. The reaction was not as big as I expected it to be. It seems bigger now.”
Chamberlain, who starred at Kansas and died in 1999, will have his achievement get its due this week.
The Wilton Norman Chamberlain Postal Stamp Committee is holding a luncheon to continue their push to put Chamberlain on a stamp. “Wilt 100,” an NBA TV original film narrated by Chamberlain’s chief rival and good friend, Hall of Famer Bill Russell, premieres at 7 p.m. Friday.
For more, the website http://www.nba.com/warriors/history/Wilt–Chamberlains–100–Points–Anniversary.html was launched.
The Sixers recently purchased the court that was stored in Hershey. The Sixers donated part of the court to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and all fans at Friday’s game vs. the Warriors will receive a mounted 2″x2″ piece.
Sixers CEO Adam Aron wants to incorporate other parts of the court at their new practice facility, expected to be built in the next few years. Aron said part of the floor will be given to Chamberlain’s three sisters at halftime of Friday’s game against the Warriors.
“It’s going to be all Wilt, all night long,” Aron said.
Chamberlain still looms large in the NBA — no matter there’s no video of his feat or he can’t be around to celebrate the mark at 50.
“You can’t see him scoring 100 points,” Pomerantz said, “but you feel his presence.”