Did Wilt even want to score 100?
Wilt Chamberlain was satisfied the game was no longer in doubt. He was ready to take a seat on the bench.
Good thing his coach didn’t listen — or at least acted like he didn’t hear Chamberlain’s request.
As we reach the 50-year anniversary of Chamberlain scoring 100 points in a game (scoring 100 points in a game — even Jeremy Lin hasn’t done that!) it has come to light the big fellow had no interest in hitting the century mark that night in Hershey, Pa.
“He wanted to come out of the game after he had scored like 75 points. The game was already won,’’ Chamberlain’s sister, Barbara Lewis, told The Daily. “He thought he was embarrassing the other team.’’
For the record: Chamberlain’s Philadelphia Warriors routed the New York Knicks, 169-147, on March 2, 1962.
For the record books: Chamberlain scored 100 points.
Chamberlain didn’t tell his sister about his request until after he had retired from the NBA in 1973. But teammate Al Attles heard it himself.
“I was on the sideline when he asked to come out,’’ Attles said. “The coach [Frank McGuire] didn’t say anything. … Sometimes you say something and they act like they don’t hear you. Maybe that’s what happened.’’
Attles figured Chamberlain had scored in the 80s at that point, which would still have been an NBA record. The mark Chamberlain broke was his own (78), put up three months earlier in a triple-overtime game against the Lakers.
But why didn’t McGuire heed Chamberlain’s desire to be taken out? Perhaps one reason was he wanted to make sure he would finish the season with a 50-point scoring average.
“Unbeknownst to us, Frank had made a pact to Wilt that he was going to average 50 points that season,’’ Attles said.
Chamberlain died in 1999 and McGuire in 1994 so neither is around to discuss the alleged pact. But it’s hard to deny Chamberlain’s 1961-62 season was statistically the most remarkable in history. He averaged 50.4 points, 25.7 rebounds and 48.5 minutes per game. (Overtime games allowed him to average more than the 48-minute NBA game.)
“Statistically, yes, it’s the greatest season ever,’’ said forward Joe Ruklick, then Chamberlain’s teammate. “But it’s also because this was a time when black guys were discriminated against. There was a quota system. The max was four guys on a team. … In some towns, like St. Louis and Cincinnati, Wilt never left the hotel.’’
Ruklick, a sparingly used reserve who is white, got the assist on the final basket. He said Chamberlain revealed to him in 1998, at a ceremony to retire Chamberlain’s jersey at the University of Kansas, that he told McGuire late in the game to insert Ruklick.
“I asked [Chamberlain], ‘Why in the heck was I even in that game?’’’ Ruklick said. “He said, ‘Ruklick, there were some guys on that team who didn’t want me to score 100 points.’ … I’m in the game because there was bigotry.’’
Ruklick wouldn’t identify any of the players Chamberlain allegedly didn’t want to get the historic assist. As for the final basket, it came when a rebound was knocked out to Ruklick, who threw it in to Chamberlain.
“It was not a dunk,’’ Ruklick said. “Wilt had a lot of class. He didn’t believe in hot dogging or humiliating his man. He rolled it in off his fingertips.’’
The most enduring image of Chamberlain from that night is a photograph of him holding a sign up in the locker room reading “100.’’ There is no video from the game, only audio and some still photographs.
And, at the time, it wasn’t even treated as a big deal. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Bulletin put a small box on their front page and then a story in the sports section, according to Wikipedia. The New York City papers ran wire stories with no mention of the feat on the front page.
The reasons for the muted reaction was two-fold: The NBA was not a major player on the sports scene in 1962 and a 7-foot-1 black player was considered a “freakish star” by much of the media.
And the Knicks weren’t about to offer much praise. With about six minutes to go in the game they reportedly starting fouling any Warrior who wasn’t Chamberlain in an attempt to keep him from getting 100 points.
“One of the negative parts of the game to me always will be I thought that after the first half they were playing with the purpose of trying to get Wilt 100 points,’’ said Knicks guard Richie Guerin, who scored 39 points that were quickly forgotten. “They deliberately fouled us in the backcourt so they could get the ball back as many times as they could.’’
At least Guerin has better thoughts about Chamberlain’s legendary 1961-62 season.
“Even greater for him than the 100-point game was averaging 50 points,’’ Guerin said. “Kobe [Bryant] had 81 in a game [in 2005-06] and other players have scored in the 70s. But to do it over the course of a season is tremendous. Nobody else has come close.’’
No other player in NBA history has averaged even 40 points per game.
Attles had his own night to remember that evening in Hershey, scoring 17 points on 8-of-8 shooting from the field. He hit his only free throw, choosing the wrong time to have a perfect game.
To recognize the guard’s night, Chamberlain, after his retirement, signed and presented Attles with what he thought was the game ball. He inscribed, “To Al Attles, the man who did the right thing at the wrong time. 8-for-8. 1-for-1. Sorry, I scored 100 with this ball.’’
But Attles said it’s not the actual game ball since it has the signature of Walter Kennedy, NBA commissioner from 1963-75, not one from 1961-62 boss Maurice Podoloff. The whereabouts of the actual ball remains a mystery, and Attles said he never told Chamberlain it wasn’t the one.
That Chamberlain was willing to part with what he thought was the ball offers insight into how he felt about the record. Lewis said Chamberlain always was a “little embarrassed’’ about it and didn’t discuss it much.
“I do remember him telling me he rode back after the game with some of the Knicks players,’’ Lewis said of Chamberlain, who lived during the season in New York. “Willie Naulls was one. They got on him, saying ‘You dirty dog, you scored 100 points and we give you a ride.’ Wilt faked like he was asleep. Then when they got to New York, he said, ‘The dirty dog thanks you for the ride.’’’
Attles is actually glad McGuire didn’t grant Chamberlain’s request for a sub.
“The number 100 just sounds a lot better,’’ Attles said.