Updated: Aug 27, 2022
Originally #6 on my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time list https://www.djssportsshow.com/post/nba-75-greatest-players-of-all-time, but after rethinking it, I decided to move him to #7 (behind the guy you’ll see at #6). Anyways, at #7 is the most dominant force in NBA History, outside of Shaquille O’Neal, and a man you could name the NBA record book after, holding 72 NBA records, with 68 of them to himself, and a two-time NBA champion: Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain was born on August 21, 1936, In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and died on October 12, 1999. His mother, Olivia, was a homemaker and domestic worker while his father, William Chamberlain, was a welder, custodian, and handyman.
For someone as imposing as Chamberlain, he was a very frail child who nearly died of pneumonia and missed a whole year of school as a result. Early on in his childhood, Chamberlain had no interest in playing basketball as he thought the game was “soft”. He was a fantastic track and field athlete, however, who high jumped 6-feet-6-inches ran 440 yards in 49 seconds, and 880 yards in less than two minutes! He also was a great long jumper, being able to jump 22 feet, and he showed his abnormal strength by being able to shot put over 53 feet.
Despite being an olympian type of athlete — a path he could have easily taken if not for basketball — Chamberlain switched to basketball due to how popular the sport was in his hometown. He towered over most from the time he was 10 years old when he stood six-foot, and by the time he got to Overbrook High School, he was already six-foot-eleven. Chamberlain was more talented and physically superior than his opponents on both ends of the court, averaging 31 points a game for the Overbrook Panthers in 1953.
Chamberlain scored 34 points to help the Panthers win the Philadelphia Public League title, where they would earn a berth to play in the title game against West Catholic. The team would quadruple the “Goliath” Chamberlain, who “only” scored 29 points but ended up losing 54-42.
In his sophomore season at Overbrook Chamberlain, he set a high school scoring record of 71 points against Roxborough in an utter display of pure dominance. The Panthers would take the Public League title against Northeast after a 40-point performance from Chamberlain. They would also win the city championship by defeating South Catholic, 74-50, in a game where Chamberlain would score 32 points and lead Overbook to an undefeated 19-0 season.
In the summer of 1953, legendary Boston Celtics head coach, Red Auerbach, had Chamberlain play against the NCAA Most Outstanding Player in 1953 in Kansas. He played Jayhawk standout B.H. Born, who Chamberlain beat 25-10 in a one-on-one and made the aforementioned Born give up playing in the NBA to become a tractor engineer. He said, "If there were high school kids that good, I figured I wasn't going to make it to the pros."
Auerbach tried to convince Chamberlain to attend college in the Boston area so the Celtics could use a territorial pick on him, but Chamberlain paid it no mind. Imagine Chamberlain and his career rival and friend, Bill Russell, on the same team together?! It is hard to even fathom what they would have accomplished together, but, for the sake of competition and the NBA, it was better they became opponents instead of teammates.
In Chamberlain’s third and final season as a Panther, he put up three consecutive astronomical scoring outputs of 74,78 and 90 points! The stuff he was doing was straight mythical! The Panthers won the Public League for the third time, beating West Philadelphia 78-60, and they won against West Catholic in the city championship, where Chamberlain scored 35 points in an 83-42 victory.
Chamberlain finished his high school career with two city titles and a 56-3 record, and he shattered Tom Gola’s high school scoring record, scoring an absurd 2,252 points, with a scoring average of 37.4 per game! He would become one of the most sought-after prospects of all time, with over 200 universities trying to recruit the otherworldly talent, Chamberlain.
He ended up becoming a Kansas Jayhawk in 1955 for coach Robert Allen. Chamberlain’s freshman team debut (freshmen weren’t allowed on the varsity team until 1972) was one of the most sought after of any blue-chip recruit ever, and he did not disappoint by scoring 42 points against his older teammates, with 16-of-35 (46%) from the field, 10-of-12 (83%) from the foul line, and 29 rebounds. He swatted four shots (blocks weren’t recorded during Chamberlain's time).
Allen retired with his successor being Dick Harp, who Chamberlain had a frisky relationship with. In his debut as a varsity member, he would already shatter records by scoring 56 points and grabbing 31 rebounds in an 87-69 win over the Northwestern Wildcats, which broke both all-time Kansas records that still stand today.
Chamberlain averaged 29.6 points and 18.9 rebounds per game in 27 games of action. He was a multi-sport athlete who also won three consecutive Big Eight Conference high jump championships in the high jump, ran the 100-yard dash in 10.9 seconds, and triple-jumped more than 50 feet with the college basketball season still going on! Straight mythical.
He helped lead the Jayhawks to the national championship game in 1957 after a 32-point, 11-rebound performance, in a lopsided 80-56 victory over the then two-time defending champion, San Francisco Dons. They would play the North Carolina Tar Heels in a battle that saw Chamberlain get triple-teamed all game long, causing the Jayhawks to shoot 27% from the field and trail 22-29 at halftime.
Unfortunately for Chamberlain and the Jayhawks, they lost 52-51 despite Chamberlain's 23 points and 14 rebounds. He would be named the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament and a first-team All-American. Chamberlain would state that this would be the toughest loss of his career.
In 1957-58, Chamberlain averaged 30.1 points and 17.5 rebounds per game, even with opposing defenses double and triple teaming him to try to freeze him out of the Jayhawks' offense. The Jayhawks would finish with an 18-5 record, losing three games due to Chamberlain being out because of a urinary infection, but would fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament after not being named the conference champions, which was required at the time to participate.
He would once again be named first-team All-American, alongside future NBA Hall-of-Famers Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, and Guy Rodgers, with Baylor and Rodgers being future teammates of his. Chamberlain would leave Kansas due to wanting to earn money while playing. In his two seasons as a Jayhawk, he averaged 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds per game to finish with totals of 1,433 points and 877 rebounds, while helping lead Kansas to a Big Seven Championship.
Chamberlain wanted to become a professional after his junior year at Kansas, but at the time, the NBA wouldn’t allow “amateurs” to enter the league until after their college graduating class had been completed. He would be prohibited from joining the NBA in 1958 and would join the Harlem Globetrotters for a year for $50,000. The Globetrotters were known for entertainment and basketball wizardry.
On October 24, 1959, the great Chamberlain made his NBA debut for the Philadelphia Warriors (now Golden State Warriors), where he played the New York Knicks and showed his remarkable scoring ability with 43 points and grabbed 28 rebounds. He played with Hall-of-Famers Paul Arizin and Tom Gola, along with his college rival Rodgers.
Chamberlain would go on to average a jaw-dropping 37.6 points and 27 rebounds a game as a rookie (the highest per game in those categories for a rookie of all time), and led them to a 49-26 record, which was good enough for second in the Eastern Division, behind his career rival, Russell’s Celtics. He scored 2,102 points in only 56 games, breaking the record set previously by NBA Hall-of-Famer Bob Pettit when he did it the year prior with 2,101 in 72 games of action.
He became one of two players to win the MVP award in his rookie season, Wes Unseld being the other, who did it in 1969. Chamberlain also led the league in scoring and rebounding, continuing to add on to an unprecedented first season. He would meet the Celtics in the playoffs against Russell, which included a 50-point, 35-rebound performance in a 128-107 Game 5 win. They would lose the series, but he put the league on notice that season, showing that he was here to stay.
Ultimately, Chamberlain would become the most dominant big man in NBA history, demonstrating this by averaging a video-game-like 50 points and 25 rebounds per game in a season and scoring an NBA record of 100 points in a game! Both achievements came in 1962. You can literally name the NBA record book after Wilt, as he has 72 NBA records, 68 of them to himself. He is a two-time champion, NBA Finals MVP, four-time NBA MVP, 13-time all-star, 10-time all-NBA selection, 1960 ROTY, and two-all defensive teams (which would have been way more if they had them his entire career).
He is also a seven-time scoring champion, 11-time rebounding champion, the only center to lead the league in assists in a season, and the all-time rebounding leader, with a rebound per career average of 22.9! He gets discredited because of the era he played in, but he gave his main rivals, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wes Unseld, Nate Thurmond, and many other big problems. Who knows how good he’d be today if he had the nutrition and training players get nowadays.
He and Russell played each other 94 times, Russell coming out on top with 57 victories to Chamberlain’s 37, in one of the greatest rivalries in NBA and sports history that forever changed the landscape of sports.
There will never be another Chamberlain: he’s a mythical fairy tale that seems too far-fetched to believe that what he accomplished is actually true, but yes, he was truly a “Goliath” of a legend.
Believe in the myth!