Posted on: March 1, 2012 7:57 pm
The 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game is not only an occasion to remember the accomplishment, but also the man.
What better way to reflect on Chamberlain’s signature moment than through the eyes of his friend and most bitter rival?
So I called Bill Russell, the 11-time champion of the Celtics, and asked if he’d be so kind as to share his thoughts about the occasion 50 years ago Friday. I’ll provide his response, followed by the context.
The response from Russell: “Not really.”
“Is it a bad time, or is it a topic you don’t really want to talk about?”
“A little of both,” he said.
And that was that. I apologized for the intrusion and wished Russell the best.
“No intrusion,” Russell said. “And thank you.”
I shared the conversation with Sy Goldberg, Chamberlain’s longtime friend and attorney. On the phone from Los Angeles, Goldberg was neither surprised nor particularly offended by Russell’s reaction.
“There was a love-hate relationship between these two guys,” Goldberg said.
Let it be noted that Russell, who turned 78 last month, harbors no grudges or animosity toward Chamberlain – nothing different than they ever did, anyway. Goldberg said in the old days, the NBA used to schedule the Sixers and Celtics on Thanksgiving Day, and when the game was in Philadelphia, Russell was a guest at casa de Chamberlain for Thanksgiving dinner.
“Russell was there all the time,” Goldberg said. “They were close friends.”
But Chamberlain never forgave Russell for questioning his toughness after Lakers coach Jan van Breda Kolff refused to put an injured Chamberlain back into Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Celtics. Chamberlain had asked out with six minutes left and asked back in with three minutes left, but van Breda Kolff declined. The Celtics won, 108-106, for their second straight championship and last of the Russell era.
“That day, Russell said something like, ‘I don’t care how bad he was, I would never have come out of the game,’” Goldberg said. “Wilt never forgave him for that.”
But with Russell and Chamberlain, the hard feelings weren’t permanent. On the day Chamberlain died of heart failure, Oct. 12, 1999, Goldberg got a call from a frantic Russell, who didn’t want to believe the news.
“I had been called by the gardener, and the police were there, and it was real pandemonium,” Goldberg said. “And I got a call from Bill Russell. His quote was: ‘I wouldn’t believe any news at all unless you tell me it’s true.’ And he sounded like he was devastated.”
In the old days, Chamberlain got all the attention and Russell got most of the championships. So on the eve of Wilt’s 100-point anniversary, the old Celtic stays quiet.
Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s how Wilt would’ve wanted it.
Posted on: March 1, 2012 6:30 pm
Edited on: March 2, 2012 12:11 pm
Of all the improbable circumstances that collided on the night 50 years ago when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points, perhaps none was more devastating than the realization that hit play-by-play man Bill Campbell after the game.
As Campbell was driving home from Hershey, Pa., to his home in Broomall, Pa., after using his velvety voice to document the feat for humanity, he realized what a terrible mistake he’d made.
“It suddenly hit me halfway home, maybe one in the morning,” Campbell said on the phone this week. “One hundred points and I didn’t even tape the game.”
Fortunately for Campbell, he later got a phone message from a man whose name he didn’t recognize, and it saved him a lifetime of embarrassment – and provided the public with a lasting memory of Chamberlain’s unprecedented feat.
“I called this guy back, and he told me, ‘I’m sure as a representative of a fine professional organization, you obviously have a very skillfully produced recording of this event,’” Campbell said. “I didn’t say we didn’t. He said he had recorded the fourth quarter, had done it at home on his little ham-and-egg set. And he said, ‘Would you mind if I sent it to you as a memento of the occasion.’ And I thought, ‘Would I mind? This may get me off the hook!’”
The recording of the fourth quarter of Chamberlain’s 100-point performance for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962 was made by a college student named Jim Trelease, who bootlegged the recording in his University of Massachusetts dorm room. If not for that – Campbell calmly calling, “He made it! He made it! A dipper dunk! He made it!” after the basket that got Wilt to 100 -- the accomplishment would be even more mythical than it already is. There were no TV cameras in Hershey that night, and thus no video of the historic event
Campbell, who is planning to attend the Philadelphia 76ers’ game against the Golden State Warriors Friday night in Philly to commemorate the 50th anniversary, said he later heard from Chamberlain himself about that recording.
“When Wilt was named to the Hall of Fame, he called in from Los Angeles and he said, ‘Do you have any of the 100-point game?’” Campbell said. “He said, ‘Send it to the Hall of Fame.’ And we sent it to the Hall of Fame, and they were delighted to have it.”
And so are we.
Posted on: March 2, 2009 2:51 pm
We need to start a tradition on this blog, so listen up. Every year on this day, we will pause and remember the most dominant force who ever played the game and recognize the most dominant performance in the history of basketball.
Happy anniversary, Wilt Chamberlain -- 47 years to the day after you scored 100 points in a single game. To this day, nobody has come close. (Sorry, Kobe, 81 isn't close enough.)
Here's a page with a bunch of links to stories and opinions about Wilt's 100-point game. For those of you too young to remember (and yes, I count myself among you), imagine an NBA player scoring 100 points in a game that was not televised. The Philadelphia Warriors played the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pa., where Wilt's team sometimes ventured to expand its fan base. Nowadays, teams expand their fan base by streaming their games online. What a world.
So there is no video (that I'm aware of) showing Wilt scoring 100 points. There is an audio clip on the National Public Radio site where you can listen to broadcaster Bill Campbell call the last few baskets. And of course, there is the iconic photo of Wilt holding a piece of paper with "100" written on it. Harvey Pollack, then the team's PR director and to this day the Sixers' statistician, came up with the idea and wrote Wilt's point total on the paper -- as if nobody would believe it otherwise.
So here's to you, Big Dipper. See you back here next year -- or when somebody else scores 100 points in a game. So again, see you here next year.