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Wilt changed the game

By Larry Pritchett
Past PCHS activities director

I don’t follow professional basketball much because although the players have lots of talent, I don’t think the game is as much team-oriented as it used to be during my growing up days. I also realize that my growing up days were a number of years ago, but not all the changes that have come to the modern game in my opinion have been improvements.
There are certain players who I enjoy watching in the game that is played now but not a lot of teams. I like to watch Kevin Durant in today’s NBA.
I always enjoyed Michael Jordan. He had skill, he had determination and he wasn’t afraid to fail. Many people say he is the best player ever and they have lots of ammunition to back that claim. I think when you start talking “Best of the Best” there a lot of things that could be debated. If I got to pick five players to start a team at the professional level there is a pretty good chance he would be one of the five.
A couple of weeks ago Kevin Durant passed MJ’s run of consecutive 25 point games. Michael’s streak was 40 games in a row of scoring at least 25 points. That is a heck of a run but it wasn’t the record in the NBA. A historic deed, a great achievement, but it wasn’t the record.
A lot of people today could not even come close to naming the record holder. A lot of people have the idea that the NBA didn’t even come into being until Larry Bird and Michael Jordan arrived in the late 1970s.
The NBA has been around longer and there have been great players before Bird, Jordan, Magic and Durant. A sports reporter quipped that baseball fans revel in its history. NFL fans respect its history and NBA fans think the league is 15 minutes old. I agreed with that thought.
Let’s review a little bit about who held the record. Wilton Norman Chamberlain, Wilt the Stilt, The Big Dipper. Basketball changed with the arrival of Wilt. Wilt came to the Philadelphia Warriors in 1959 and that was 20 years before Magic and Bird got there. Wilt scored at least 25 points in 106 straight games. All of the 1961-62 season and 26 games of the 62-63 season that is a pretty good run and many people do not know anything about it.
Sometimes the things that Chamberlain accomplished are overshadowed by Bill Russell because Russell won 11 NBA championships while Wilt got three. Chamberlain never had the supporting cast that Russell did but he still accomplished outstanding numbers.
Chamberlain also played against some outstanding players.
He had several games against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, and Bob McAdoo to name a few. Competition was outstanding. There were fewer teams then so the talent level was high on almost all teams.
Here are some things that Wilt did during his playing days. In the 61-62 season he averaged 50.4 points a game. He once scored 100 points in one game. A streak of seven straight games where he got at least 50 points, 14 straight games of 40 points, 65 straight games of 30 points and the 106 games of 25 points.
They changed rules because of him. The lane got wider. The free throw rules changed, which is strange in itself, because if you remember, Wilt was a terrible free throw shooter although in the 100 point game I think he was 28/32. But at one time you didn’t have to stay behind the free throw line until the ball hit the rim, etc.
Wilt would start at the circle take off on the run, jump from the FT line and dunk the ball. They changed that and Wilt went on to be a terrible free throw shooter.
Chamberlain changed a lot of things. He was highly recruited out of Overbrook High School in Philadelphia and ended up at Kansas. Phog Allen recruited him but never got to coach him because Kansas had a mandatory age 70 rule and Allen had to retire. Dick Harp got that honor.
Allen said that during the recruitment which was fierce, “Of course I used everything we had to get him, what do you think I am a Sunday School teacher?”
Recruitment hasn’t changed much. Freshman were not eligible to play and the first time that the freshman played the varsity, the freshman won and Wilt had 42 points and 29 rebounds. His first game as a varsity player he got 52 against Northwestern. Teams tried everything against him.
All kinds of junk defense, stalling, etc. and Oklahoma State, in one game, made 160 passes before shooting the ball.
Chamberlain also ran track and field at KU. He ran a sub 11 second 100 yard dash. Threw the shot put 56’ feet, triple jumped over 50 feet and won the Big Seven High Jump three straight years.
His biggest disappointment was never to win an NCAA title at Kansas. The Jayhawks did get to the finals against North Carolina but lost in triple overtime. That loss kept Chamberlain from returning to the KU campus for a number of years but he did go back in 1998 when they retired his jersey.
He wore his letter jacket to the half time ceremony and said, “I am a Jayhawk and I know why there is so much tradition here and why so many wonderful things have come from here, Rock Chalk, Jayhawk.” He died from a heart attack less than two years later.
Wilt once said that no one ever cheers for Goliath, but many players have given him credit for making professional basketball a better game.
Now Durant’s streak enters into the The Big Dippers story. NBA fans should not dismiss what Chamberlain did, they should embrace it.
My Dad took me to see Chamberlain play when I was in high school.
I have to admit it was a boring game because the team that Kansas was playing fouled Wilt all night long. I saw a “Hack a Shaq” attack before Shaq was born. Wilt was impressive and I never forgot that game.
I think his track career was more impressive for me at that stage in my life. I can remember this giant running down the triple jump and thinking he was never going to come down.
Seven-footers should be able to play basketball, I thought, but being a trackster was almost beyond my comprehension. Wilt was a sight to see.