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Wilt's Game of the Century Set the Standard

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Wilt's Game of the Century Set the Standard
Brian Bahr/Getty Images
Wilt Chamberlain recalls his career highlights in a 1997 briefing.

Name a great one.

Babe Ruth. Ted Williams. Jim Brown. Tom Brady. Wayne Gretzky. Oscar Robertson. Michael Jordan.

The list goes on and on, but no athlete in the history of professional sports ever had a more dominant game—and a more dominant year—than Wilton Norman Chamberlain, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors in 1961-62.

The crowning achievement of Chamberlain’s year (and his career) occurred on March 2, 1962, when Wilt scored 100 points against the New York Knickerbockers.

The "Game of the Century" was played before a half-empty arena with 4,124 in attendance in Hershey, Pa. The contest was not televised—in fact, no footage of any kind exists.

Not a single New York sportswriter was there to write about it. There were only two photographers on hand, and one of them left after the first quarter. Veteran broadcaster Bill Campbell broadcasted the game over WPHT radio in Philadelphia.

In addition to his 100 points, Wilt established single game records that still stand for field-goal attempts (63), field goals made (36) and free throws made (28 on 32 attempts), mind-boggling for such a terrible foul shooter.

No NBA player has ever come close to approaching 100. Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in 2006. David Robinson had 71 in 1994. Michael Jordan scored 69 in an overtime game. Pete Maravich once scored 68 against the Knicks.

Here are 10 interesting sidebars about Wilt Chamberlain and his incomparable 1961-62 "Season of the Century":

1. 50.4 PPG: Chamberlain scored 4,029 points and averaged 50.4 points a game during the 1961-62 season, coming off a 44.8 scoring average the previous year. In the 50 years since, Michael Jordan’s 37.1 PPG in 1986-87 is the NBA high water mark.

2. Scoring Streaks:  In 1962, Wilt  scored more than 50 points 44 times, more than 60 a dozen times and more than 70 twice. In December of 1961, Chamberlain had five straight games of 50, including a then-record 78 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Later that December, he scored 50 or more seven times in a row. He had another streak of six straight 50+ games in January of 1962, topped by 73 against the Chicago Packers. Wilt scored 67, 65 and 61 in the games leading up to 100. And two nights after 100, Chamberlain torched the Knicks for 58 at Madison Square Garden.

3. Rebounds: Wilt averaged 25.6 rebounds per game that year, third best of all time behind his own best 27.2 in 1960-61 and 27.0 in his rookie year, 1959-60.

4. League Leader: Chamberlain led the NBA in at least 10 major categories in 1961-62, including minutes played, field goals, field-goal attempts, free throws, free-throw attempts, total rebounds, points, minutes per game, points per game and rebounds per game.

5. Minute Man: Wilt played every minute of every Warriors game that year, and averaged more than 48 minutes per game (48.52), the only time that’s ever been done. In fact, the top seven seasons of minutes played all belong to Chamberlain, who never fouled out of an NBA game.

6. All-Star Game Record: He set new standards in the NBA All-Star game that year with 42 points and 24 rebounds. But Bob Pettit of the host St. Louis Hawks won the MVP as the West beat the East, 150-130.

7. Playoffs: Wilt’s Warriors finished second in the NBA East in 1961-62 with a 49-31 record, 11 games behind the Boston Celtics (60-20). Philadelphia beat the Syracuse Nationals 3-2 in the best-of-five first round, then lost to the eventual NBA champion Celtics in seven games, with the home team winning each time.

Wilt outscored his Boston counterpart, Bill Russell, in all seven games, with a 42-point, 37-rebound effort in Game 2, and a 41-point, 34-rebound performance in Game 4. In the deciding Game 7, Chamberlain had 22 points and 21 rebounds, and tied the game in the last minute with a three-point play, but the Celtics’ Sam Jones hit the game-winner with two seconds remaining. Russell finished with 19 points and 22 rebounds

8. No MVP: Despite putting together the greatest statistical season in NBA (and arguably pro sports) history in 1961-62, Wilt Chamberlain did not win the MVP. That honor went to his rival, Bill Russell. Wilt did win four NBA MVP awards.

9. NBA Leader: Chamberlain won the NBA scoring title his first seven years in the league, beginning with his rookie year in 1959-60. He led the league in rebounds 11 times in 14 seasons, and even won the assist title in 1967-68. He won two NBA titles, with the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers and the 1971-72 Lakers.

10. On the Record: The record books are heavy with Chamberlain’s accomplishments. In addition to what’s been outlined above, he holds the NBA record for most consecutive field goals (18), most rebounds in a game (55),  most games with 50+ points (118), most consecutive games with 40+ points (14) most consecutive games with 30+ points (65), most consecutive games with 20+ points (126), highest rookie scoring average (37.6 PPG) and highest field-goal percentage in a season (.727).

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