48 Years Ago, the Sixers Traded Wilt Chamberlain to the Lakers
Here are 11 things you might not know about the pride of Overbrook High.
Forty-eight years ago tomorrow, the Philadelphia 76ers traded their then-32-year-old center, seven-foot-one-inch Wilt Chamberlain, to the Los Angeles Lakers. The pride of Overbrook High, who’d won one NBA title with the Sixers (in 1967), would go on to the finals with the Lakers four times and win the title in 1972. Who’d we get in return for him? Jerry Chambers, Archie Clark and Darrall Imhoff. Uh-huh. To mark the occasion, here are a few of the highlights of Wilt the Stilt’s illustrious life.
- After a record-setting career from 1951 to 1955 at Overbrook High — he scored 90 points in one game and averaged 44.5 per game — Chamberlain headed for the University of Kansas. In the first game he played in for the Jayhawks, he set school records for both points (52) and rebounds (31). In that season’s NCAA final, Kansas lost to UNC, 54-53, in triple overtime, in what many in sports consider the greatest college basketball game of all time (at least until last April).
- At Kansas, Chamberlain drove around in a red and white convertible Oldsmobile that eventually aroused suspicions of recruiting violations. An AP story in May 1958 quoted him as saying, “I bought a cheap car several years ago and just worked up.” But after an investigation, the NCAA put Kansas basketball on probation for two years, finding that the school had given him the car for free and tried to hide the fact by having him park it inside a booster’s garage.
- So Chamberlain left college after his junior year, joining the Harlem Globetrotters, since NBA rules then prohibited players from going pro until after the graduation of their college class. Legend holds that the NBA took the precaution of instituting the offensive goaltending rule the year before Chamberlain was eligible to turn pro, which he did with the then-Philadelphia Warriors in 1959.
- In another Wilt-inspired change, when he went pro, the NBA foul lane was 12 feet wide. Chamberlain won the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player titles in 1959 and dominated the game for five years by parking himself in the low post. After the league widened the lane to 16 feet to thwart him, he perfected a turn-around jump shot.
- Chamberlain, a lifelong Republican, blocked the exit when former vice president Richard Nixon tried to slip quietly away from Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral on April 9, 1963, without joining the march to the cemetery. After Chamberlain corralled him into marching, Nixon only went a few blocks before explaining that he had to get to the airport. “Can I get a lift?” Chamberlain asked, and Nixon complied. Chamberlain later went to work for Nixon’s 1968 campaign.
- In 1,205 regular-season and playoff games, playing for the Warriors (in both Philly and San Francisco), the 76ers and the Lakers, Chamberlain never once fouled out.
- Chamberlain hated the nickname “Wilt the Stilt” and asked Sixers announcer Dave Zinkoff not to use it. He believed his height was incidental to his athletic ability, and he may have been right: He starred in track and field in high school, held the state shot-put record, and was a world-class volleyball player after he retired from the NBA. (He’s actually in the Volleyball Hall of Fame.)
- Chamberlain scored 60 points or more in 32 NBA games. Of the 65 individual top-scoring games in NBA history, he has 32. (Michael Jordan has five; Kobe Bryant has six.) On the list of top seven all-time NBA single-season scoring leaders, he’s numbers one, two, three, five and seven. He’s also the all-time NBA leader in rebounds. Yet he was a notoriously poor foul-shooter, with a career .511 average. In college, he experimented with leaping toward the basket from the foul line and dunking the ball — until the rules were changed so the ball had to be released from behind the line.
- The Inquirer’s Harvey Pollack covered the famous Warriors game against the Knicks on March 2, 1962, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in which Chamberlain scored 100 points. (The closest anybody’s gotten to 100 since then was 81 by Kobe Bryant, in 2006.) As Pollack, who died last year, told the story, he set up the iconic post-game photo of Chamberlain taken by the AP’s Paul Vathis by tearing a sheet of paper out of his notebook and scrawling “100” on it, then handing it to Chamberlain and asking him to pose. “It was the biggest night I’ve ever had in all my 65 years in the league,” Pollack later said.
- Mental Floss once did the math on Chamberlain’s infamous claim that he’d slept with 20,000 different women and deduced that to hit that total, he’d had to have slept with 1.4 women every day from age 15 until age 55, when he made the claim (with no repeats). Chamberlain also boasted that he never once slept with a married woman. He was never hit with a paternity suit, nor is there any record of him contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Yet a childhood friend of Chamberlain’s couldn’t recall him ever having a date and theorized he was a virgin when he graduated from high school.
- In March of 2015, ESPN published an article in which a San Franciscan man named Aaron Levi claimed to be Chamberlain’s secret gay son.
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