On this day in 1936, the great basketball player Wilt Chamberlain was born. He was one of my heroes as a boy. I just loved basketball. This included playing it, even though I was short and uncoordinated. He was the father of the Holy Trinity on the Los Angeles Lakers along with Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Quite a group. I don’t much enjoy basketball anymore; it’s too frenetic. But I greatly admire the people who play it.
What has always fascinated me about Chamberlain was that he was a really a bad free throw shooter. Really: for the last eleven years in the NBA, his field goal percentage was always higher than his free throw percentage. To some extent, I think this was an unconscious reaction to thinking that free throws were wrong. The rules of free throws were changed because of him. In college, he was able to simply dunk the ball from a standing position. His athleticism was amazing.
Of the ten highest scoring games for a player in NBA history, Wilt Chamberlain has six. This, of course, includes the famous 100-point game between the Philadelphia Warriors and the New York Knicks. It’s interesting that in that game, Chamberlain shot 88% from the free throw line. It would seem that when he was inspired, he could shoot while unmolested from 15 feet away.
More than all of this, I read a couple of his books when I was older. He was incredibly insightful about the game. He was also a braggart and obviously insecure about himself relative to Bill Russell. There’s no doubt that Chamberlain was the greater athlete and solo player, but it is hard not to conclude that Russell was was the better team player—with the championships to prove it. But other than his understandable insecurities, Chamberlain came off as a decent guy. And an interesting one.
Here’s a little collection of him playing:
Happy birthday Wilt Chamberlain!