This is a common accusation, and to be honest, there is a certain amount of merit to it.
It's an indisputable fact that the average NBA player in the '60s was smaller than the average player of today. During the 1961-62 season, for example, there were only three seven-footers in the nine-team league, along with two guys at 6'11" and three at 6'10". Boston and St. Louis topped out at 6'9".
So the big men like Chamberlain had a major advantage, right?
If that were true, we'd be talking about Swede Halbrook, the 7'3" center for the Syracuse Nationals, as the best ever. Surely his massive height advantage over everyone, including Wilt Chamberlain, would have made him the preeminent dominant force in the paint of all time. But we're not talking about Halbrook.
In that '61-'62 season, Halbrook had an appalling .360 field goal percentage and averaged just 6.3 points per game along with a very pedestrian 6.2 rebounds per game. Numbers so poor that his NBA career ended immediately after his sophomore effort.
The other seven-footer that season, Walter Dukes, wasn't much better for Detroit. With an equally poor .396 shooting percentage, Dukes managed just 9.4 points per game and 10.4 rebounds in the '61-'62 season. Not exactly the kind of domination one would expect from a player who is as much as three or four inches taller than the next tallest guy on the floor most nights.
The fact of the matter is that height is an asset on the basketball court, but it isn't the be-all and end-all. There weren't a lot of giants in the NBA because the true big men simply weren't very good players. They were slow, they were awkward and they fatigued quickly.
With the exception of 6'11" Walt Bellamy, there wasn't a big center in the league who could be counted on to lead his team in scoring night after night.
Chamberlain changed all that.
Here was a guy who was able to use his size in a way no one else could. He could move like a guard, he could finish around the rim, he could rebound, and he seemingly never ran out of gas. He created a need for similar big men that would go largely unfulfilled for quite a few years until Lew Alcindor began his career with the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969-70 season.
In the meantime, Wilt was simply playing a game that no one else had ever seen and that no one knew how to deal with.
Modern centers, like Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwight Howard, exist because Chamberlain set the standard and created the stereotype. Before Wilt, there simply was no such thing.