Chamberlain 100-point milestone turns 50

7:05 AM, Mar 2, 2012   |    comments
Wilt Chamberlain
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Separating fact from fiction, legend from lore is never simple when discussing Wilt Chamberlain.

This much is fact and legend: Fifty years ago today, Chamberlain, then 25 and playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, scored an NBA record-100 points in a 169-147 victory against the New York Knicks.

In basketball circles, this is the record, the equivalent of Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak.

PHOTOS: Images of Wilt Chamberlain
Will anyone equal or pass Chamberlain's mark?

Can anyone?

The closest to give it a shot was Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006.

Kobe on meeting Wilt Chamberlain
"I remember I missed some easy ones that probably would have got me to 90," Bryant says.

Numbers and records, so meaningful in baseball, are no less legendary in basketball than Chamberlain's 100 points in a game, an NBA-record 55 rebounds and a 50.4-point scoring average for the 1961-62 season.

Kobe on scoring 81 points in 2006
The late Hall of Famer had another number he offered up in his 1999 autobiography A View From Above: 20,000 women.

But there was more to Chamberlain than numbers.

As former teammate Tom Meschery once said, "His truths were larger than truths."

Atlanta Hawks guard Tracy McGrady, who scored 62 points for the Orlando Magic in a 2004 game, has a difficult time seeing a player score 100.

"Not the way the game is played nowadays," he says. "It's just hard for me to see anyone even scoring 80 again. You don't even see 50 no more."

Fifty-point games have decreased in the last four-plus seasons. From the 2007-08 season through Wednesday's games, 12 players for a total of 22 times had scored at least 50.

But 100? Chamberlain's career high until then was 79.

There might be no greater single-game performance than that from Wilton Norman Chamberlain, the Big Dipper, who died in 1999 of congestive heart failure.

It's a seminal moment in sports drifting further away from comprehension.

"It's such a mythologized moment," said author Gary Pomerantz, who wrote Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era.

"It's the statistical Everest of American sports. ...Kobe Bryant had 81 in a game in 2006. But that game had none of the social import. ...To me the 100-point game becomes this hyperbolic announcement of the ascendency of the black athlete in this sport" - 15 years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier.

"I'll never forget the night he did it," friend and former teammate Jerry West says. "We were coming from Los Angeles to St. Louis, just checked in the hotel, and one of the bell guys said, 'Did you hear Wilt scored 100?' "

Making Chamberlain's game more mythologized is the absence of footage from the third and final game played in Hershey, Pa.. The NBA hopes some footage is stored away unbeknownst to someone and will be unearthed one day.

"It was a strange night," Meschery said. "For one thing, you have to imagine ...chocolate wafting through the air, small arena. ..No reporters from any of the major media there."

Even the existing fourth-quarter radio play-by-play from sportscaster Bill Campbell on Philadelphia's WCAU-AM comes with an incredible story of a UMass-Amherst student who recorded a replay, of coincidences, otherwise there would be little audio of those final moments.

It is a story of black-and-white photos and oral and written history juxtaposed vs. the Internet, video game world where scoring 100 is still fantasy.

Although Chamberlain didn't like to talk much about the game, his sister, Barbara Lewis, says he used to say, "Everybody's got a story."

• Here's the big fourth quarter and everybody's thinking, 'How many's Wilt going to get?' He's got 69 going in."

- WCAU's Campbell on the radio

Lewis, 74, says Chamberlain might have been embarrassed by his memory of scoring 90 points in a high school game and the feeling stuck with him. She notes that Chamberlain looks sheepish in that famous photo of him holding a sheet of paper with "100" written on it.

Lewis says Chamberlain liked to talk about his visit to the Hershey arcade before the game and the ride home to New York with opponents Willie Naulls and Johnny Green of the Knicks.

"He talked about how he was in some special zone at the arcade, winning teddy bears and basketballs and all kinds of prizes," she says.

The breakdown on his 36 baskets on an NBA-record 63 shots (57%) from the floor: 23 points in the first quarter, 18 in the second, 28 in the third and 31 in the fourth. A career 51% free throw shooter, Chamberlain made 28 of 32 from the line that night.

"What pleased him more than the 100 points was that he made all those free throws," Russell says.

In a zone is right.

"As time goes by, I feel more and more part of that 100-point game," Chamberlain once said. "It has become my handle, and I've come to realize just what I did."

•"We're just conjecturing here how many can he make. He's got 9 minutes and 24 seconds left, and the guesses are running as high as 100. Wouldn't that be something?"

- WCAU's Campbell on the radio

There would be no fourth-quarter audio of Campbell's call if it weren't for Jim Trelease, then a student at UMass-Amherst, and a Knicks fan.

Trelease lived in Van Meter dormitory, the highest point on campus, in a first-floor room with pipes that run from the basement to the top floor, 335 miles from Hershey, Pa., and 270 miles from Philadelphia. He used to rest the radio antenna on the pipes for better reception.

"A giant five-floor antenna," Trelease says.

A Knicks fan, Trelease fell asleep but awoke later that night to the sports report: Chamberlain scored 100 and WCAU telling listeners it would replay the fourth quarter at 3 a.m.

"Bill Campbell was a low-key announcer, a good announcer," Trelease says. "It took a lot to get Campbell stoked. It was a long way from Harry Caray.

Trelease, who had borrowed his girlfriend's Webcor reel-to-reel recorder for the semester, and began recording. But Trelease he had another worry. When students turned on the lights in the dorm bathrooms, the fluorescent glow interrupted reception.

He Trelease was lucky. It was 3 a.m. on a Friday, and many students went home for the weekend.

Trelease had the recording, but that's not the end of the story.

Not quite the end. of the story. WCAU accidentally recorded over the broadcast, and no one from the NBA, the Knicks, the Warriors or Hershey had a full recording of the fourth quarter. ... Until Trelease attended an event in Hershey in the early 1990s.

Trelease, who had kept that recording in a box for nearly 30 years, turned it over to the Hershey Community Archives, which in turn made copies for the NBA.

"The older I get and the more I travel, the more I realize that six degrees of separation in some instances could BE only three or four degrees of separation," Trelease said.

"Electronics have brought all our lives closer and closer. Today, it's impossible for any athletic event, even the local little league game, to go unrecorded or undocumented. That was the beginning of our digital age, and it's fun to be a little slice of that."

You can't talk about Russell, with 13 championship rings (11 as a player, two as coach), without talking about Chamberlain. They played against each other 142 times.

You can't talk about Chamberlain - career averages of 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds - without talking about Russell. He averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds.

They were contemporary adversaries on the court, and later, friends off it.

"We played the same position in entirely different ways," Russell says. "He believed sincerely he was the greatest basketball player ever. I never disagreed. With all his accomplishments, people forget how hard he worked."

But you can't talk about the emergence of the dominant, modern day big man without linking both. They knew it then. They knew after retirement, and Russell knows it today.

"The way we played, nobody played that way before," Russell says. "You can't say he played like him or he played like him. You can't say that about either Wilt or myself."

• "Imagine a guy getting 75 points and you still have eight and half minutes to play."

- WCAU's Campbell on the radio

Bryant says he has never watched his 81-point game.

"There's nothing I could have learned from that game," he says. "It was just pure fluke, a freak of nature-type thing."

Not even watching to see how possible reaching 90 or 100 points would be?

"If I did watch it, it would only (upset me) if I saw I really could have had 100," Bryant says.

Did he ever want to make another run at 100? "No. It wasn't even a consideration," he says.

Bryant made 28 of 46 shots, including seven of 13 three-pointers, and 18 of 20 free throws. He scored 55 in the second half. A video review of each missed shot reveals Bryant could have made a few more.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt is tricky because he shot 60.9% that game. Of his 18 misses, two were open threes and a couple were runners in the lane.

Bryant had a shot at 90. To reach 100, he would have needed to make 36 of his 46 shots, including nine of his 13 threes, and 19 of his 20 free throws.

• "If you know anybody not listening, call them up. A little history you are sitting in on tonight."

- WCAU's Campbell on the radio

Bryant, like Chamberlain, attended high school in the Philadelphia area.

"This (Philadelphia) area is a hotspot for basketball. It always has been," Bryant says. "I feel a great sense of pride trying to carry that tradition with Wilt, with Earl "The Pearl" Monroe. It's a lot of pride that comes from the Philadelphia area."

Bryant met Chamberlain twice - once at the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland, when Bryant was 18, and once as a youngster.

"I was like 7 or 8," Bryant says. "My father (former NBA player Joe Bryant) introduced me to him. It was in McGonigle Hall at Temple University.

"My father said, 'Kobe, I want to introduce you to somebody. He's one of the greatest players of all time.' I just looked at him and I go, 'Bombaata.'

"He's Bombaata in Conan the Destroyer. That's the only thing I knew him as - Bombaata.

"He picks me up. It's like the coolest thing ever. Wilt was a great sport about it."

• History is being written here tonight in Hershey. The big man has broken the record and is going for more.

- WCAU's Campbell on the radio

Scoring 100 points in a game is rare but not unheard of.

Furman's Frank Selvy, who played nine NBA seasons, scored 100 points against Newberry College on Feb. 13, 1954. Former Southern California All-American and TNT's Cheryl Miller had 105 points in high school game Jan. 26, 1982.

Former high school star Dejuan Wagner scored 100 on in a high school game Jan, 16, 2001 for Camden (N.J.) High School. On the same night in Texas, Cedrick Hensley had 101 points in a high school game. Epiphanny Prince, who plays for the WNBA's Chicago Sky, broke Miller's high school girls' record with 113 points on Feb. 21, 2006.

It has happened many times internationally. Yugoslavian and Croatian great Drazen Petrovic, who also starrred in the NBA, scored 112 points for Cibona Zagreb against Smelt Olimpija Oct. 5, 1985.

• "Wilt laughs as if to say, 'What am I doing out here?' He knows what he's doing out here. He's going for one zero zero."

- WCAU's Campbell on the radio

When Chamberlain and Russell played against each other, Russell averaged 14.5 points and 23.7 rebounds, and Chamberlain 28.7 and 28.7.

Russell knew it was a matter of time before Chamberlain scored 100.

"I told him, 'You know, I'm probably the only person on this planet who really knows how good you are,'" Russell says. "The only thing I was really glad about was that I wasn't guarding him that night."

Russell lets loose with his classic high-pitched cackle.

Then Russell's laugh fades. He turns serious.

"I'm going to tell you something," Russell says. "He could do that on anybody. I think he went over 60 with me one night. I also know that he set the league record for rebounds in one game (55), and I was the other center that night."

Chamberlain dropped 62 points on Russell and the Celtics on Jan. 1, 1964. For good measure, Chamberlain had 28 rebounds.

Chamberlain scored 60 or more points 32 times, reaching at least 70 five times, and averaged at least 20 rebounds 10 times.

He did more than score and rebound. To prove it, when he was with the Sixers, he led them the Sixers in assists in 1966-67 (7.8 per game) and 1967-68 (8.6 per game). In 1967-68, he led the league in total assists (702) and finished second to Oscar Robertson in assists per game.

He has the league's only 20-20-20 game - 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists, in the 76ers' Philadelphia's 131-121 victory against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 2, 1968.

• One minute and one second to play. He has 98 points in professional basketball. I'll tell you, that's a lot of points if you're playing grammar-school kids, isn't it?"

- WCAU's Campbell on the radio

One hundred points in a game today seems impossible.

Bryant has no doubts it will happen: "It's inevitable. It'll eventually happen."

NBA Commissioner David Stern, a Knicks fan growing up, agrees with Bryant.

"There is almost no record in the NBA that is safe," Stern says. "And I think that there will be another one. I don't know whether it will be in my lifetime or not."

Russell disagrees. "It would have to be a gimmick," he says.

Atlanta Hawks guard Tracy McGrady, who scored 62 points for the Orlando Magic in 2004, has a difficult time seeing a player score 100.

"Not the way the game is played nowadays," he says. "It's just hard for me to see anyone even scoring 80 again. You don't even see 50 no more in our game. I can't put my finger on it."

Fifty-point games have decreased in the past four-plus seasons. From the 2007-08 season through Wednesday's games, 11 players have scored at least 50 22 times.

From 2002-03 through 2006-07, 18 players for a total of 50 times scored at least 50 points.

Just three 50-point games in the last season and a half. Sixty point games are disappearing. There have been just six since 2005-06 - five by Bryant and one by guard Gilbert Arenas. Bryant scored 61 against the Knicks on Feb. 2, 2009, the last to reach at least 60.

The game is different today. Pace and style of play have changed. Defenses and offenses have evolved, along with talent on the court.

"Now the coaches have so much more control over it in terms of defending to try and make it difficult for really good players to score," West says.

The 1961-62 Warriors averaged 111 shots. The Warriors took 115 shots the night Chamberlain scored 100; he accounted for 55% of their shots.

Only one team in the last 30 years, the 1990-91 Denver Nuggets, have averaged at least 100 shots. The last team to take at least 115 shots in a non-overtime game: The Seattle SuperSonics, with 117 on March 4, 1993.

An email from a Chamberlain teammate, Joe Ruklick, begins: "Did I tell you that ref Woozy Smith, a genial drinking buddy of our team at hotels and airports, threatened during the last few seconds of Wilt's Century Game to forfeit it to the Knicks, rescind Wilt's official score book record and have me banned from professional basketball for life?

"That I saved some chump from paying $500,000 for a basketball a fan tried to foist on Leland's auctioneers? The fan claimed he'd snatched the game ball while everybody was shaking Wilt's hand during the commotion after Wilt's final score."

As a backup, Ruklick rarely played - because Chamberlain played and played and played. Ruklick later earned his Master's in journalism from Northwestern and worked at the Chicago Defender, the city's black newspaper.

Ruklick, a former Chamberlain teammate, likes to tell stories. After his playing days, Ruklick earned his Master's in journalism from Northwestern and worked at for the Chicago Defender, the city's black newspaper.

Chamberlain's backup and teammates, he rarely played because Chamberlain played and played and played.

Chamberlain averaged at least 42.1 minutes per game in 14 seasons and 48.5 in 1961-62. He played all 48 minutes that night against the Knicks. Teammate Al Attles likes to clarify one aspect about the 100-point game: "Wilt was tired and wanted to come out of the game."

Ruklick entered the game with one instruction from Warriors coach Frank McGuire: Get the ball to Wilt.

Ruklick had one assist - that game - for Chamberlain's 99th and 100th points.

Lewis and her two sisters, Margaret Lane, 78, and Selina Gross, 76, will attend the Golden State Warriors-76ers game today in Philadelphia. Each fan in attendance will receive 2-inch-by-2-inch squares of the court used that night in Hershey.

"Wilt would be thrilled," Lewis says. "He loved history so much.

"For us as a family to have that piece of floor to give to our children and grandchildren, generations later will know the significance of that."

Lewis says she wants people to remember the good Chamberlain did for others. He was a philanthropist, generous with his time and money. He supported Operation Smile, which helps children overcome facial deformities; started the Wilt Chamberlain Scholarship Fund, which continues to help students today and donated money to his high school and to women's track teams.

"He was about giving so much," Lewis says.

Says Attles: "It was a pleasure to be his friend."

• "The rebound, Luckenbill back to Ruklick into Chamberlain. He made it! He made it! He made it! A Dipper Dunk! He made it! The fans are all over the floor. They stopped the game. People are running out on the court. One-hundred points for Wilt Chamberlain. ...The most amazing scoring performance of all time. One-hundred points for the Big Dipper."

- WCAU's Campbell on the radio

By Jeff Zillgitt

USA Today

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