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, 2010 10:16 am
Edited on: March 2, 2010 10:47 am
As much as I enjoyed Act I of Allen Iverson's career in Philadelphia, Act II never seemed like a good idea. Now, under much different circumstances than the ones that marked A.I.'s first tour in Philly, he's done in the city he owned for so long.
Done for good? That remains to be seen.
The Sixers confirmed Tuesday what has seemed obvious since the All-Star break -- that Iverson's return to Philadelphia is over. Unable to be around the team consistently while he tends to his ill daughter, Iverson and the Sixers are parting ways under amicable terms.
Team president Ed Stefanski had set a deadline of this week for Iverson to determine whether he'd be able to return to the team for good. Things never progressed to that point after the team granted Iverson an indefinite leave of absence after the All-Star break.
Two book-keeping matters related to A.I.'s season being over: He isn't being released, so there's no significance to this event happening after the March 1 deadline by which players must be released in order to be playoff-eligible for another team. (Since Iverson isn't able to play for the Sixers due to what's going on in his life, he wouldn't be able to play for anyone else, either). Also, Iverson gets paid for the whole season, because his one-year contract for the prorated veteran's minimum of $1.3 million became guaranteed on Jan. 10.
As is usually the case with Iverson, his situation is more complex than he or the team has admitted. While it would be in poor taste to criticize Iverson given the undisclosed health issues his daughter is experiencing, Iverson needlessly put himself in the crosshairs of criticism by co-promoting a club party with Jermaine Dupri on Feb. 27 in Charlotte. The promotional poster is here, complete with many dubious tweets confirming Iverson's appearance at the party.
What does all of this mean for Iverson's future? It's foolish to even guess. But given that Iverson already has "retired" once this season, and given that his last three employment arrangements have ended badly, it's hard to imagine another team taking a chance on him next season, when he'll be 35.
Hard to imagine, but not impossible. Iverson was able to charm the Grizzlies and Sixers, so it's wise not to underestimate his ability to unleash his powers of persuasion on another NBA owner this summer.
If, on the other hand, there's no market for a 35-year-old scoring guard with arthritis and a series of bad breakups in his wake, that'll be too bad. If this is the end for Iverson, it's a sad, unfulfilling way for him to go out.
There was never a player even remotely like him, and it's safe to say there never will be.
One more thing, on a nostalgic note. Iverson, one of the most important sports figures in Philadelphia history, goes out on a very significant day. One year ago, I promised to acknowledge the anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game every year in this blog on March 2. And here we are on March 2 -- pausing to remember Wilt's historic night in Hershey, Pa., in 1962 and saying good-bye another member of Philly's basketball Mount Rushmore.
In some ways, Iverson was a giant. In other ways, he fell short of what he could have been. But one thing you can't take away from him: He made sure everybody knew he was here.
Posted on: February 25, 2010 1:05 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2010 1:35 pm
When Dwight Howard isn't ignoring immature taunts from Shaquille O'Neal, how does he stay busy?
On Wednesday night, he put his name in the same sentence with Wilt Chamberlain.
I'd like to be able to say, "Dwight, I knew Wilt Chamberlain. And you're no Wilt Chamberlain." Sadly, I didn't meet the late, great Wilt until he joined the rest of the NBA's 50 Greatest at the 1997 All-Star Game in Cleveland. I have spent considerable time around Dwight Howard -- watching him perform with boyish enthusiasm and astounding athletic talent, and listening to him thoughtfully, respectfully, and sometimes playfully answer questions from inquiring types like me.
At 24, Howard's resume has a long way to go before he can hold it up against Wilt's, or even Shaq's. Those are facts. So is this: Dwight Howard did something Wednesday night that nobody had accomplished since Chamberlain in 1969, a year before I was born.
In Orlando's 110-92 victory in Houston, Howard had 31 points and 16 rebounds and was 11-for-11 from the field. He also had three assists, one block and was 8-for-12 from the foul line, but that's not the point. The point is, Howard became the first player since Chamberlain to record at least 30 points and 15 rebounds while not missing a shot in at least 10 field-goal attempts. He also recorded his 19th consecutive double-double, a franchise record that broke a tie with -- you guessed it -- O'Neal.
Nobody is saying that Howard = Chamberlain, or even that Howard = Shaq. But it's time to stop dismissing the most physically overwhelming talent in the NBA as a mere freak. Howard is a freak who has his team playing the best basketball in the league.
When it comes to doubting Howard's killer instinct, offensive fundamentals and meanness, I'm guilty as charged. I've questioned Howard's desire to be the alpha male from time to time. But I'm ready to put that aside and just enjoy him for what he is and what he will be -- the most dominant big man in the NBA for the next decade or so.
Last season, Howard became only the fifth player in NBA history to lead the league in blocks and rebounds in the same season. Neither Chamberlain nor Shaq is on that list, which includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Ben Wallace. (In fairness, the NBA didn't count blocks as an official statistic until the 1973-74 season.) Howard currently leads the league in both categories again, and if he repeats the feat, he'll stand alone as the only player ever to do it twice.
More importantly, Howard's team is winning. The Magic are 13-4 since Jan. 20, and no other team has as many wins during that stretch.
The Cavs got Shaq for one reason, and one reason only: To contend with Howard in the playoffs. They just added Antawn Jamison in the hopes that they'll have an answer for Rashard Lewis, who destroyed Cleveland in the conference finals last season. Jamison is too much of a pro to belittle Lewis or anybody else. That hasn't stopped O'Neal from incessantly taunting Howard, calling him an impostor, and generally dismissing him as little more than a wart on his ample behind.
All of this will come home to roost in the playoffs, when the Cavs will have to get past Howard and the Magic if LeBron James is going to deliver the championship that he and the city of Cleveland so desperately need. Take a look at these numbers, crunched by NBA.com's John Schuhmann, showing the dramatic difference in LeBron's production against Orlando with Howard on the floor vs. off the floor since 2007-08. The translation: Howard is so good that he makes the best player in the NBA significantly worse.
Whatever happens in May and June, we know this: Howard will be there with a smile on his face. And he will let his play do the talking.
Posted on: January 21, 2010 12:46 pm
With Kobe vs. LeBron Thursday night in Cleveland, it's the perfect time to come up with a list of the top five individual rivalries in NBA history.
Michael Jordan makes the list, but only barely; he never had an individual rival or anyone close to his equal.
Kobe and LeBron make it, even though they haven't (yet) competed head-to-head for a championship. But as (arguably) the two best individual performers in the game -- albeit at different stages of their careers -- this is as good as it gets in modern times. (And not because of the puppet commercials.)
So with the following rough criteria -- competing for championships, relative difference in skill level, and the competitiveness of their teams -- here are my top five individual rivalries in NBA history:
1) Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell: This is a no brainer. The two dominant players of their generation competed for the Eastern Conference title six times and the NBA title twice. Russell forever lords over Chamberlain in the debate over who (other than Jordan) was the best player ever, due to his 11 championships compared to Chamberlain's two.
2) Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson: Their rivalry began in college with the seminal NCAA title game between Indiana State and Michigan State in 1979, which made the NCAA Tournament what it is today. It continued throughout their NBA careers with the Celtics and Lakers lifting the NBA to national prominence with three NBA Finals matchups in the '80s. Lakers vs. Celtics is all you need to say to conjure memories than span generations.
3) Bird vs. Julius Erving: Before we had Bird vs. Magic on the NBA stage, we had Bird vs. Dr. J. Their teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals in four of the first six years of the '80s, splitting the four meetings to determine who would go on to face the Lakers in the Finals (with the exception of 1981, when the Celtics faced the Rockets). Who among us (in 35-and-up demographic) didn't get his first video game experience on that grainy but thrilling "One on One" video game featuring Bird and Dr. J?
4) Kobe vs. LeBron: I put them here because of A) What is, and B) What might still be. LeBron is just entering his prime, when presumably he will begin stockpiling championships. Unlike Jordan at a similar stage of his career, LeBron has a formidable, immortal rival in Bryant who is still standing in the way. Kobe continues to play at a high level and has a chance to keep LeBron's championship trophy case barren for a couple of more years. (And they have the puppet marketing machine going for them, too.)
5) Jordan vs. Isiah Thomas: As inhabitants of the same conference, Mike and Zeke never squared off with a championship on the line. But Jordan's epic battles against Isiah's Bad Boy Pistons -- taking his lumps in the '89 and '90 Eastern Conference Finals before finally breaking through in '91 -- marked the emergence of one of the all-time greats. By supplanting Isiah and the Pistons, Jordan dispensed with the last true individual rival he would face en route to six NBA titles in eight years. Their rivalry also transcended the court; it was personal. Isiah's alleged "freezeout" of Jordan in the 1985 All-Star Game, Jordan's alleged efforts to sabotage Thomas' failed bid to be included on the 1992 Dream Team, and the visceral hatred that exists to this day between Jordan's long-time agent, David Falk, and Thomas makes this a must in my top five.
Posted on: November 14, 2009 3:35 pm
I enjoy Stan Van Gundy's curmudgeonly nature. Sometimes, I poke fun at him. But I've never enjoyed anything he's ever said more than his stance on LeBron James' call for the NBA to retire Michael Jordan's No. 23.
"It's a nice gesture," Van Gundy said Friday, "but he is not Jackie Robinson."
Nor is he Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, or Oscar Robertson. No basketball league retires No. 23 until those other numbers are retired, too.
Retiring jersey numbers is a team decision, not a league decision. Funny, I thought it was a LeBron decision. I thought everything was up to LeBron. I wouldn't be surprised if LeBron wanted No. 23 retired because it's his number.
What made this even more comical was that LeBron said he'd be switching to No. 6 out of deference to Jordan -- but not out of deference to Russell, evidently.
LeBron's insistence on sucking up to Jordan is, to borrow a phrase from the King himself, getting old. He should go back to talking about how humbled he is that half the teams in the NBA want him to wear their jersey, regardless of the number on it.
And one more suggestion: If any numbers get retired, it should be those worn by the actual pioneers who broke the NBA's color barrier: Chuck Cooper (first black player drafted), Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton (first signed), and Earl Lloyd (first to play in a regular season game).
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.