Wilt Chamberlain Unisex T-Shirt
Finally, a way to show your respect for some of the greatest icons, legends and pioneers that paved the way past and present. Rock this gear in style and bring back the moments that made you, memories they gave you and/or lessons they taught you. Scroll down for a history lesson with some of our favorite clips.
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Wilt Chamberlain – ESPN Basketball Documentary
Wilton Norman Chamberlain (/ˈtʃeɪmbərlɪn/; August 21, 1936 – October 12, 1999) was an American professional basketball player who played as a center, and is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the sport’s history. He played for the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He played for the University of Kansas and for the Harlem Globetrotters before playing in the NBA. Chamberlain stood 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m) tall, and weighed 250 pounds (110 kg) as a rookie before gaining up to 275 pounds (125 kg) and later to over 300 pounds (140 kg) with the Lakers.
Chamberlain holds numerous NBA regular season records in scoring, rebounding, and durability categories. He is the only player to score 100 points in a single NBA game or average more than 40 and 50 points in a season. He won seven scoring, eleven rebounding, nine durability, and nine field goal percentage titles, and led the league in assists once. Chamberlain is the only player in NBA history to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game in a season, which he accomplished seven times. He is also the only player to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game over the entire course of his NBA career. Although Chamberlain suffered a long string of NBA Finals losses during his career, he had a successful career, winning two NBA championships, earning four regular-season NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards, the NBA Rookie of the Year award, one NBA Finals MVP award, and was selected to 13 NBA All-Star Game and ten All-NBA First and Second teams. Chamberlain was subsequently enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978, elected into the NBA’s 35th Anniversary Team of 1980, and was chosen as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.
Chamberlain was known by several nicknames during his basketball playing career. He disliked the ones that called attention to his height, such as “Goliath” and “Wilt the Stilt“. A Philadelphia sportswriter coined the nicknames during Chamberlain’s high school days. He preferred “The Big Dipper”, which was inspired by his friends who saw him dip his head as he walked through doorways. After his professional basketball career ended, Chamberlain played volleyball in the short-lived International Volleyball Association, was president of that organization, and is enshrined in the IVA Hall of Fame for his contributions. He was a successful businessman, authored several books, and appeared in the movie Conan the Destroyer.
How Good Was Wilt Chamberlain Actually?
Individual achievements and recognition
Chamberlain is regarded as one of the most extraordinary and dominant basketball players in the history of the NBA. The 1972 NBA Finals MVP is holder of numerous official NBA all-time records, establishing himself as a scoring champion, all-time top rebounder and accurate field goal shooter. He led the NBA in scoring seven times, field goal percentage nine times, minutes played eight times, rebounding eleven times, and assists once. He was also responsible for several rule changes, including widening the lane from 12 to 16 feet, as well as changes to rules regarding inbounding the ball, and shooting free throws. Chamberlain is most remembered for his 100-point game, which is widely considered one of basketball’s greatest records. Decades after his record, many NBA teams did not even average 100 points, as fewer field goals per game were being attempted. The closest any player has gotten to 100 points was the Los Angeles Lakers‘ Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 in 2006. Afterwards, Bryant said Chamberlain’s record was “unthinkable … It’s pretty exhausting to think about it.”
Chamberlain’s main weakness was his notoriously poor free-throw shooting, where he has the third-lowest career free throw percentage in NBA history with 51.1% (based on a minimum of 1,200 attempts). Chamberlain claimed that he intentionally missed free throws so a teammate could get the rebound and score two points instead of one, but later acknowledged that he was “a psycho case” in this matter. On the other hand, he committed surprisingly few fouls during his NBA career despite his rugged play in the post. Chamberlain never fouled out of a regular-season or playoff game in his 14-year NBA career. His career average was only two fouls per game despite having averaged 45.8 minutes per game over his career. He had five seasons where he committed less than two fouls per game, with a career-low of 1.5 fouls during the 1962 season, in which he also averaged 50.4 points per game. His fouls per 36 minutes (a statistic used to compare players that average vastly different minutes) was a remarkable 1.6 per game. Sharman said: “First he was a scorer. Then he was a rebounder and assist man. Then with our great Laker team in 1972, he concentrated on the defensive end.”
In his two championship seasons, Chamberlain led the league in rebounding, while his scoring decreased to 24 and 15 points per game. As his scoring decreased, his assists increased to 4 per game, even recording two back-to-back seasons with 8 assists per game and one assist title. By 1971–72, at age 35 and running less, his game had transformed to averaging only nine shots per game compared to the 40 in his record-setting 1961–62 season. He also had a signature “Dipper” move, whereby he would fake a hook shot, and extend his arm to a short-range finger roll to shoot under a block attempt. For his feats, Chamberlain was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978, named part of the NBA 35th Anniversary Team in 1980, one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996, ranked No. 13 in the ESPN list “Top North American Athletes of the Century” in 1999, voted the second best center of all-time by ESPN behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 2007, and ranked No. 2 in Slam‘s “Top 50 NBA Players of All-Time in NBA History” in 2009, and No. 6 in EPSN list of the top 74 NBA players of all time in 2020, the third-best center ever behind Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell. During his career, Chamberlain competed against future Hall-of-Famers including Russell, Thurmond, Lucas, and Walt Bellamy. He later faced Unseld, Abdul-Jabbar, Dave Cowens, and Elvin Hayes.
From a historical NBA perspective, the rivalry between Chamberlain and his perennial nemesis Bill Russell is cited as the greatest on-court rivalry of all time. There were three NBA Finals matchups in the rivalry between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, but they played different positions and did not guard each other. Russell’s Celtics won seven of eight playoff series against Chamberlain’s Warriors, 76ers, and Lakers teams, and went 57–37 against them in the regular season and 29–20 in the playoffs. The Hall-of-Famers who played with Chamberlain were Paul Arizin and Tom Gola for the Warriors; Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham for the Sixers; and Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Gail Goodrich for the Lakers. Russell’s teams won all four seventh games against Chamberlain’s; the combined margin was nine points. Chamberlain outscored Russell 30 to 14.2 per game and outrebounded him 28.2 to 22.9 in the regular season, and he outscored him 25.7 to 14.9 and outrebounded him 28 to 24.7 in the playoffs as well.
The comparison between the two is often simplified to a great player (Chamberlain) versus a player who makes his team great (Russell), an individualist against a team player. In 1961–62, when Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game, he noted that Boston did not rely on Russell’s scoring, and he could concentrate on defense and rebounding. He wished people would understand that their roles were different. Chamberlain said: “I’ve got to hit forty points or so, or this team is in trouble. I must score—understand? After that I play defense and get the ball off the boards. I try to do them all, best I can, but scoring comes first.”
Russell won 11 NBA titles in his career while Chamberlain won two. Chamberlain was named All-NBA First Team seven times to Russell’s three, but Russell was named league MVP—then selected by players and not the press—five times against Chamberlain’s four. Russell and Chamberlain were friends in private life. Russell never considered Chamberlain his rival and disliked the term, instead pointing out that they rarely talked about basketball when they were alone. When Chamberlain died in 1999, Chamberlain’s nephew stated that Russell was the second person he was ordered to break the news to. The two did not speak for two decades after Russell criticized Chamberlain after Game 7 of the 1969 Finals. Russell apologized privately to him and later publicly.
Chamberlain’s impact on the game is also reflected in the fact that he was directly responsible for several rule changes in the NBA, including widening the lane to try to keep big men farther away from the hoop, instituting offensive goaltending, and revising rules governing inbounding the ball and shooting free throws, such as making it against the rules to inbound the ball over the backboard. Chamberlain, who reportedly had a 50-inch vertical leap, was physically capable of converting foul shots via a slam dunk without a running start, beginning his movement at the top of the key. When his dunks practically undermined the difficulty of a foul shot, both the NCAA and the NBA banned his modus operandi. In basketball history, pundits have stated that the only other player who forced such a massive change of rules is 6’10” Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan, who played a decade before Chamberlain and also caused many rule changes designed to thwart so-called big men.
Although Chamberlain racked up some of the most impressive statistics in the history of Northern American professional sports because he won only two NBA championships and lost seven out of eight playoff series against the Celtics teams of his on-court nemesis Bill Russell, Chamberlain was often called selfish and a loser. Frank Deford of ESPN said that Chamberlain was caught in a no-win situation: “If you win, everybody says, ‘Well, look at him, he’s that big.’ If you lose, everybody says, ‘How could he lose, a guy that size?’ “ Chamberlain himself often said: “Nobody roots for Goliath.” Like later superstar Shaquille O’Neal, Chamberlain was a target of criticism because of his poor free-throw shooting, a .511 career average, with a low of .380 over the 1967–68 season. Countless suggestions were offered; he shot them underhanded, one-handed, two-handed, from the side of the circle, from well behind the line, and even banked in. Sixers coach Alex Hannum once suggested he shoot his famous fadeaway jumper as a free throw, but Chamberlain feared drawing more attention to his one great failing. Despite his foul line woes, Chamberlain set the NBA record, later tied by Adrian Dantley, for most free throws made (28) using the underhand technique in a regular-season game in his 1962 100-point game. Chamberlain later said that he was too embarrassed by the underhand technique to continue using it, even though it consistently gave him better results.
Chamberlain damaged his reputation in an April 1965 article with Sports Illustrated. In an interview titled “My Life in a Bush League”, he criticized his fellow players, coaches, and NBA administrators. Chamberlain later commented that he could see in hindsight how the interview could have been instrumental in hurting his public image. However, contemporary colleagues were often terrified to play against Chamberlain. Russell regularly feared being embarrassed by Chamberlain, Walt Frazier called his dominance on the court “comical”, and when 6-ft 11-in, 250-pound (in his early years) Hall-of-Fame center Bob Lanier was asked about the most memorable moment of his career, Lanier answered: “When Wilt Chamberlain lifted me up and moved me like a coffee cup so he could get a favorable position.”
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