By Arnie Leshin
It’s the same old story and I usually write something on it March 2nd of every year. Why? Because I was there. This year I completely forgot, until now.
And now I again have the thoughts of what transpired in 1962 that night in Hershey, Pa. It was a town best known as chocolate city, and when you first arrive the smell of chocolate was sweet and tasty and evident. If chocolate was your delight, this was the place to be.
But this wasn’t about chocolate, it was about the NBA regular season game at Hershey Arena matching 7-foot-1 Wilt Chamberlain and his Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knickerbockers. This was just another place where they scheduled out-of-town games and I didn’t notice it until I approached the area and saw the billboards.
I was with my friend Freddie, who had purchased a black Cadillac with those fins hanging out the back, and wanted to take his first car for a ride. So we stopped in Philadelphia for bagels, lox, cream cheese and coffee. Then by mistake we took the Penn Turnpike west instead of east, and by the time we realized it, we saw the exit sign for Hershey and the billboard. So we followed the road, the smell of chocolate, and decided we would stay, maybe even take in the game.
The first think we noticed after we parked the car was a huge, cheering crowd in the arcade, and what do you know, it was tall and taller Chamberlain shooting down ducks, and making all of them. So when he finished, he was awarded three fury, cuddly dolls, and he didn’t think twice about handing them out to three youngsters who were nearby.
Chamberlain then headed off waving to the crowd and we didn’t see him again until game time. But we first had to talk our way into the game, to even sit at the officials table, and so we headed for the arena, knocked on the only door we saw, and was greeted by the custodian who contacted the scorekeeper and radio broadcaster. No problem they said, we will make room for you if you have a media pass.
And that they did. Freddie found a seat in the first row and I became one of five other people at the table. The others introduced themselves, the scorekeeper, the public address announcer, the radio broadcaster, and a stringer from the Philadelphia Inquirer. There was a media room, they said, and some refreshments, so Freddie and I made our way there for some sandwiches, a buffet, drinks, and even cake and donuts for desert.
I’m thinking, gee it’s a good thing we were driving in the wrong direction.
The game was a classic, but no one in their right mind thought it would be a 100-point game from Wilt the Stilt. But starting Knick center Darrell Imoff, who started on the US Olympic team, couldn’t handle Chamberlain, and neither could the Knicks with Wiilie Nauls and Cleveland Buckner helping out. Chamberlain would just make a move toward the basket and toss the ball in. He would score on tap-ins, banked shots, and every way he could. By the third quarter Imoff had four personal fouls, and picked up his sixth early in the last quarter.
Now the Knicks were really helpless. Chamberlain already had 21 points in the opening quarter, upped it to 56 at halftime, was at 76 after three, and on this 100th point,, reserve guard Joe Rudick had the assist. He and Chamberlain were good friends, Wilt even gave him a uniform shirt for his son from his first year at University of Kansas. So while the small scoreboard clock was
ticking down, Chamberlain told Coach McGuire to put Rudick in, which he did, and he, too, became part of history.
Chamberlain, often laughed at because of his atrocious foul shooting, unbelievably tossed in a record 28 of 32 attempts, and from the floor he was 36 for 63, He had the assistance of teammates Guy Rodgers and Al Attles, two back court players from Northwest High School in Philadelphia that was not far from Overbrook High that he attended. Well, Rodgers was good for 20 assists and Attles was 8-for-8 from the field and added 16 assists.
For the Knicks, guard Richie Guerin came away with a personal-best 39 points, Buckner had 33 and Nauls 31. As for the 100-point man, the best anyone else could do was Lakers Kobe Bryant scoring 81 in 2006 against the Toronto Raptors.
Can’t forget the scorekeeper, John Tilman, the official scorer, Dave Richter, the radio broadcaster, Bill Campbell, and Harvey Pollack, a stringer from the Philadelphia Inquirer. And when all was said and done, I charged a long distance call to the Long Island Press, a daily newspaper that I was leaving to write for the Jersey Journal. At first, they said they’d get the game from the ticker tape, but when I informed them of Wilt’s 100-point game, they put a game story together with my byline.
Oh yeah, the final score was 169-147, they announced 4,163 in attendance, and it was the Wilt Chamberlain show.
When Chamberlain dunked, he was so fast that a lot of players got their fingers jammed. He reportedly also broke Johnny Kerr’s toe with a slam dunk. He developed several offensive moves that became his trademark. There was his finger roll, his fade-away jump shot that he could also hit as a banked shot, plus his passing and his shot blocking.
That 1961-62 season was one of Chamberlain’s best. He averaged 50.4 points per game, had games of 78, 73, 67 and 66, averaged 48.5 minutes a game, and rang up 4,029 points. When he retired in 1973, he left behind 128 records, which 37 years later dropped to 98. He began his NBA career in 1959. Before that he was All-State at Overbrook, played two All-America years at Kansas, and then joined the Harlem Globetrotters.
He led the league in scoring seven times, rebounding 11 times, blocked shots nine times, minutes played eight timed and once in assists. And he saved his finest free throw game for Hershey, Pa. He is regarded as one of the most extraordinary and dominant basketball players in history. He never fouled out of a game. Believe it. He had five seasons where he committed less than two fouls per game. He played four full seasons of 82 games, five games of at least 47 minutes, averaged over 60 percent shooting twice, had 11 seasons of bringing down more than 20 rebounds, four times averaging over five assists a game, and nine seasons averaging 24 points, with highs of 50.4, 44.8, 38.9, 38.4, and 37.6.
He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. He gained notoriety later in life by claiming in his autobiography — A View from Above (1991) — that he had slept with 20,000 women in his lifetime. He had many nicknames — Wilt the Stilt, the Big Dipper, Dip, the Load, Big Musty, the Record Book.He was a 13-time NBA All-Star, a four times MVP, won two NBA championships. For those that think he didn’t play against good centers, he went against Bill Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, Elvin Hayes, Dave Cowens, Bob Lanier, Wesley Unseld, John Lucas, Walt Bellamy, and Nate Thurman.
He had a history of heart trouble. In 1992 he was hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat. He eventually began taking medication. In 1999, his condition deteriorated rapidly. During this time he lost 50 pounds. On October 12, 1999, he died in Bel-air California from a congestive heart failure at the age of 63.
Born on August 21, 1936, in Philadelphia, there is a statue of him outside of Overbrook High School.