Greatness Revisited: Why Wilt Chamberlain Was the Greatest NBA Player Ever
One of the most common types of articles on this site is a comparison between players and teams, which can certainly be a fun way to pass some time.
There have been numerous articles (generating thousands upon thousands of comments) contemplating who is the better player, Kobe Bryant or LeBron James.
There have been an even greater number of articles wondering whether Kobe deserves to be ranked with Jordan, which at times sparks so much controversy it makes you wonder whether those commenting on it all are even out of grade school.
Most of the questions on the “Short List” are comparisons just such as this—one of them asking “Jordan or Russell?” And there are even some articles questioning who is the greatest player of all time, with Michael Jordan being the de facto answer of a majority of those I see.
Other players are always mentioned when a list of the greatest players in NBA history are worked up, including Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, and more recent players such as Kevin Garnett, Allen Iverson, Paul Pierce, and Tim Duncan.
While there are valid arguments to be made that all of these players should be considered among the best players in NBA history, their accomplishments, one and all, pale in comparison to Wilt Chamberlain’s, who is, while mentioned among them, relegated far too often to second-string.
Even I myself have been guilty of not always giving The Big Dipper (and don’t call him Wilt “The Stilt”; he hated that nickname) his due, but I’ve begun to revisit some of the history of the game, and have found I can no longer condone such galling inaccuracy. Wilt Chamberlain was the greatest player in NBA history, bar none—no offense meant to Michael Jordan.
MANY REASONS WILT IS NEVER GIVEN HIS DUE
There is a constant stream of idiocy concerning Wilt Chamberlain and the era in which he played found on message boards and blogs throughout the internet, in articles and columns both online and in print, and through the television sports news media.
Myth One: Wilt Was Shut Down by Bill Russell
One misconception among some is that Bill Russell shut Wilt down. I think this myth can only be explained by the fact that Bill Russell’s Celtics were so often successful against Chamberlain’s teams. However, many of Wilt’s teammates during that era were anything but Hall of Famers, whereas Bill Russell shared the court with seven of them.
Certainly the Celtics won the battles against Wilt’s early Philadelphia-San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Los Angeles Lakers teams, but those battles were ferocious and hard fought, with four of the six series going the full seven games, and one of the others going to six games. Wilt, without a great supporting cast, nearly defeated some of the greatest “teams” in NBA history merely on the strength of his own ability.
And how did Wilt fare against his great nemesis, Bill Russell, throughout his career in head-to-head matchups? Was he shut down, as some claim? Hardly.
According to Philadelphia76ers stat man Harvey Pollack, Chamberlain and Russell played head-to-head a total of 142 times. In those matchups, Wilt averaged 28.7 PPG and 28.7 RPG. Russell, on the other hand, averaged 23.7 PPG, and 14.5 RPG.
What’s of note is that Chamberlain’s career rebounding average was 22.9 RPG, while Russell’s was 22.5 RPG. Appears Wilt destroyed Bill on the boards any time he faced him.
Also of note is the fact Wilt scored 62 points in a game against Russell on January 14, 1962 in Boston, and scored more than 50 points against him in six other games. The most points Russell ever scored against Wilt? 37. Also, Russell only scored more than 30 against Wilt two other times.
Of further note is the fact Wilt set an NBA record grabbing 55 rebounds against Russell in a game on November 24, 1960, and grabbed more than 40 rebounds against Bill in six other games.
His dominance of Russell was simply a fact and was profound. If it wasn’t for the fact Russell had Hall of Famers surrounding him his entire career, Wilt’s teams would have certainly won at least two or three of those titles Bill and the Celts have.
Myth Two: Wilt Played Against Midgets
One of the most common is the idea that Wilt Chamberlain’s incredible statistical dominance during his playing days was due to the “fact” he was a “giant among Lilliputians” who played against centers who were typically 6'6" or 6'7". Nothing could be further from the truth.
While Wilt Chamberlain ended his playing career at nearly 300 lbs., and played a good portion of his latter career at around 275 lbs. He entered as a rookie at only 250 lbs., and remained at that weight or thereabouts (260 lbs.) for at least his first seven or eight seasons.
And while some who are ignorant have listed him as 7'2" in height in articles or blogs or comments they’ve written on the subject, Wilt was never over 7'1" in his life, and was actually closer to 7'0" when he first entered the NBA (despite being listed at 7'1").
Besides Bill Russell, who was 6'10" and 220 lbs., and the few other centers who are constantly mentioned in order to back up this erroneous myth, such as Dave Cowens, who was 6'9" and 230 lbs., Willis Reed, who was 6'9" and 240 lbs., and Wes Unseld, who was 6'7" and 245 lbs., there were numerous other centers throughout Wilt’s career who he played against who were anything but Lilliputian.
Following is a list of some of them:
Walter Dukes (7'0", 220 lbs.)
Swede Halbrook (7'3, 235 lbs.)
Tom Boerwinkle (7'0", 265 lbs.)
Bob Lanier (6'11", 265 lbs.)
Darrall Imhoff (6'10", 220 lbs.)
Otto Moore (6'11", 210 lbs.)
Sam Lacey (6'10", 235 lbs.)
George Johnson (6'11", 245 lbs.)
Paul Ruffner (6'10", 230 lbs.)
Dick Cunningham (6'10", 245 lbs.)
Walt Bellamy (6'11", 225 lbs.)
Leroy Ellis (6'10", 210 lbs.)
Nate Thurmond (6'11", 235 lbs.)
Mel Counts (7'0", 235 lbs.)
Nate Bowman (6'10", 230 lbs.)
Clyde Lee (6'10", 210 lbs.)
Walt Wesley (6'11", 230 lbs.)
Henry Akin (6'10", 225 lbs.)
Hank Finkel (7'0", 240 lbs.)
Lew Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (7'2", 225 lbs.)
Neal Walk (6'10", 220 lbs.)
Elmore Smith (7'0", 250 lbs.)
Jim McDaniels (6'11", 230 lbs.)
LaRue Martin (6'11", 215 lbs.)
Tom Riker (6'10", 225 lbs.)
Conrad Dierking (6'9", 225 lbs.)
Johnny “Red” Kerr (6'9", 230 lbs.)
Bob Pettit (6'9", 220 lbs.)
Spencer Haywood (6'9", 230 lbs.)
Rick Roberson (6'9", 230 lbs.)
Luke Jackson (6'9", 240 lbs.)
Duke Hogue (6'9," 240 lbs.)
Zelmo Beaty (6'9", 230 lbs.)
Len Chappell (6'9", 240 lbs.)
Elvin Hayes (6'9", 235 lbs.)
Hub Reed (6'9", 220 lbs.)
So why is it then, if there were all these very big guys playing in the NBA during Wilt’s illustrious career, that Chamberlain was able to dominate the game so completely? For instance, why didn’t the much taller Swede Halbrook dominate Wilt, rather than ride the bench behind Johnny “Red” Kerr?
The answer is very simple. Height doesn’t equate to dominance. There is far more to a player than his height. This is why Nate Robinson is able to dominate games at times, despite being a player who would look more comfortable playing in a midget basketball league than running around among the 'Redwood Trees' that are typical NBA players.
It’s why the Miami Heat’s All-Star guard, Dwyane Wade, at 6'4" is able to dominate most shooting guards in the NBA, despite the fact many of them are one, two, or even three inches taller than he is.
It’s why “giants” of the game such as George Muresan (7'7"), Shawn Bradley (7'5"), Manute Bol (7'6"), Chuck Nevitt (7'5"), Randy Breuer (7'3"), and even Mark Eaton (7'3") were never dominating scorers.
In fact, they weren’t even good scorers (Mark Eaton is slightly forgiven for this due to his defensive dominance—five-time first-team and second-team All-Defensive Team, and two-time Defensive Player of the Year), which is something that doesn’t seem possible considering some of them could dunk the ball without even jumping.
The simple fact is Wilt Chamberlain was great because he was great. He was an incredible specimen of height, strength, agility, and leaping ability. He could leap higher than many can imagine today, and was stronger than most would ever believe.
Myth Three: Wilt Couldn’t Dominate Today
Like many of the ignorant things that are said about Wilt Chamberlain by fans—of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, etc.—center around the idea that he wouldn’t have dominated in the '80s, '90s, or even today. This is based on nothing but false assumptions and ignorance.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Wilt “The Big Dipper” Chamberlain would have feasted on centers today, and would have dominated thoroughly almost all of the centers through the '80s and '90s.
Wilt vs. Shaq?
As a Miami Heat fan who will be forever grateful to Shaq for helping to bring a title to M-Town, and who loves Shaq, I still have to say Wilt in a landslide—not even a contest.
While many think of Wilt as simply a skinny version of Shaq, this is absolute nonsense. Shaq certainly has the bulk to seem like Superman, but while photos of Wilt give the impression he was some “beanpole” with not much real power, Chamberlain would have beaten O’Neal in any feat of strength without even trying hard.
Many don’t know it, but Wilt used to lift weights with Arnold Schwarzenegger and got his bench press up to over 500 lbs. He has been credited by many as having been able to bench as much as 500 pounds even during his college days, but there are not very many credible sources for this. He was a world class track and field star during those days though, competing in the 440, shot put, broad jump, and high jump.
As K.C. Jones once put it in describing Wilt’s power, "He stopped me dead in my tracks with his arm, hugged me and lifted me off the floor with my feet dangling," Jones said. "It scared the hell out of me. When I went to the free-throw line, my legs were still shaking. Wilt was the strongest guy and best athlete ever to play the game. [Source: Goliath's Wonderful Life, Hoop Magazine; May 1999; Chris Ekstrand]
Paul Silas gave an even more impressive impression of Wilt’s strength and power when he once said, "One time, when I was with Boston and he was with the Lakers, Happy Hairston and I were about to get in a scrape. All of a sudden, I felt an enormous vise around me. I was 6'7", 235 lbs., and Wilt had picked me up and turned me around. He said, 'We're not going to have that stuff.' I said, 'Yes sir.'
Even long after his playing days, his strength was apparent, as is seen in the following story:
Several years after Wilt stopped playing; he toyed with the idea of a comeback. On the day he visited the Knicks' offices in Madison Square Garden; he talked to Red Holzman, and then strode out to the elevator.
When it opened, two deliverymen were struggling with a dolly piled high with boxes of office supplies, mostly letterheads and envelopes.
The load was so heavy, the elevator had stopped maybe four inches below the floor level and now the deliverymen were huffing and puffing, but they couldn't raise the dolly high enough to get it on the floor level.
After maybe two minutes of the deliverymen's huffing and puffing, Wilt, his biceps bulging in a tank top, peered down at them and intoned, "Gentlemen, maybe I can help."
They stepped back, he stepped into the elevator, grabbed each end of the rope slung under the dolly and without much exertion, quickly lifted the dolly onto the floor level.
Looking up in awe, the deliverymen said, "Thank you." Wilt said, "You're welcome."
Wilt stepped into the elevator and rode down to the street level as another witness followed the two deliverymen toward the Knick offices and asked, "How much does all this weigh?"
They quickly surveyed the stack of big boxes of office supplies. "Close to 600 pounds," one said.
[Source: The Good Natured Giant Wasn't Belligerent, Sports of the Times; Oct 13, 1999; Dave Anderson]
Billy Cunningham tells of one incident during his playing days that truly sums up The Big Dipper’s awesome power:
"The greatest play I've ever seen was one of the last games of the 1966-67 season and were playing Baltimore. We [Philadelphia] were going for the best record in NBA history.
There was a play earlier in the game where Gus Johnson had dunked one over Wilt. Gus was a very strong player. I weighed 220 pounds, and with one hand Gus could push me out of the lane.
The man was a physical specimen [6-foot-6, 230 pounds], all muscle. He loved to dunk and was a very colorful player.
When he slammed it on Wilt, he really threw it down, and you could tell that Wilt didn't like it one bit.
Later in the game, Gus was out on the fast break, and the only man between him and the basket was Wilt. He was going to dunk on Wilt--again.
Gus cupped the ball and took off--he had a perfect angle for a slam.
Wilt went up and with one hand he grabbed the ball--cleanly! Then he took the ball and shoved it right back into Gus, drilling Gus into the floor with the basketball.
Gus was flattened and they carried him out. It turned out that Gus Johnson was the only player in NBA history to suffer a dislocated shoulder from a blocked shot."
[Source: Billy Cunningham, Tall Tales (by Terry Pluto) p. 236]
Another story comes from Wilt’s greatest rival, Bill Russell, who knew only too well how powerful Chamberlain was. As he puts it, “I still remember the time when one of our strongest men, Gene Conley, decided to fight Chamberlain for the ball. He [Conley] grabbed it and hung on and Chamberlain just lifted him and the ball right up towards the rim.” – Bill Russell, “Go Up for Glory” p. 126.
And Wilt wasn’t only a powerful player. Most think of Chamberlain as nothing but a dunking machine, scoring the vast majority of his points on thunderous dunks over smaller opponents. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
Chamberlain came into the NBA with a very polished jumper, and his strongest signature moves were not dunks, but fadeaway jumpers and finger rolls. As Carl Braun put it, “Yes, Wilt hit on those jumpers…Wilt did come into the league with a good touch from the outside, which made his early scoring that much more significant. He wasn’t just dunking the ball then.” – Red Holzman, “A View from the Bench” p. 70.
Another thing many don’t realize is that Wilt was in far better shape than most NBA players today. Most would think that with the training regimens of today’s players, they would be able to run circles around The Big Dipper – Not so.
Wilt was a world-class athlete, who came out of college a 440 Champion track star as well as a basketball Phenom. Anyone who knows the history of the NBA knows that during the 60s the pace of basketball was frenetic, with players running up and down the court all game long (half-court basketball being almost anathema to the league at the time).
During this era, Wilt once averaged more than 48 minutes a game for an entire season. That in and of itself testifies to the incredible stamina Wilt possessed and what great shape he was in. Most of the centers through the '80s, '90s, and even today wouldn’t stand a chance trying to run with Chamberlain.
Alex Hannum illustrated Wilt’s athletic and running ability well when he said, "When I coached the San Francisco Warriors, I thought Al Attles was the fastest guy on our team--by far. We used to gamble a lot--which player could jump the highest and run the fastest. So I set up a series of races, baseline to baseline. In the finals, it was Wilt and Al Attles and Wilt just blew past him. I'm convinced that Wilt Chamberlain is one of the greatest all-around athletes the world has ever seen." – Alex Hannum, “Tall Tales” (by Terry Pluto) p. 327.
Another thing that should be remembered, but is all but forgotten whenever a discussion of Wilt Chamberlain vs “Anyone” is brought up is the fact Wilt faced much greater defensive pressure than centers do today. Opponents were literally allowed to mug Chamberlain at will without getting a foul called on them; yet Wilt still dominated.
As Al Attles, one of Wilt’s teammates once put it:
"I would talk to Wilt about all the players pounding on him. Sometimes, he said he didn't notice it--he was so strong. But I also believe that there were two sets of rules.
By that, I mean because Wilt was so strong, the officials let the man guarding him get away with more--almost trying to equalize the game. I also believe that Wilt just took it because he didn't want to get thrown out, and because it had always been like that with him.
But I'd watch it and I'd get mad. It takes me a while to get my temper going, but when it does--look out. I'd see what the other players were doing to Wilt and what the officials were allowing, and I'd get more upset than if it were happening to me.
So I jumped in there. It wasn't that Wilt couldn't defend himself. If he ever got really hot, he'd kill people, so he let things pass. But I didn't have to worry about that. I was strong for my size, but I was not about to do anything like the kind of damage Wilt would."
[Source: Al Attles, “Tall Tales” (by Terry Pluto) p. 242]
In fact, Chamberlain was so brutally treated by defenses that many feared he would retire after his first year, as he had hinted at just that after the year was over. He stated he feared that if he played another season he might be forced to retaliate, and that he didn’t want to do that.
Thankfully he was able to control his emotions, and gave fans throughout the years some of the greatest entertainment one could imagine. It would have been a true shame if he would have retired after only that inaugural season.
Most amazing about all this, is that in his great and lengthy 14-year career, he never once fouled out of a game. I mean, just imagine what that must have taken in terms of control. Despite all of the rough treatment by opposing defenses, he was able to control himself enough to never receive enough fouls to be tossed from a game.
I believe he’s the only player in NBA history with any significant playing time to ever accomplish that feat, which is one of his greatest.
Myth Four: Wilt Was One-Dimensional
The most telling thing about Chamberlain’s dominance was his passing ability. Wilt is the only center in NBA history to have led the league in assists.
Many fans of Michael Jordan, when discussions of Wilt vs. Michael are brought up, will quickly mention that Michael had a higher career scoring average than Chamberlain. This fact is supremely deceiving. If Wilt had wanted to, he could have ended his career with a scoring average ten points or more higher than it was.
However, he was the consummate team player who was more than willing to sacrifice personal numbers for the betterment of the team. Michael, in contrast, as great as he was, would never think of sacrificing his numbers for the sake of the team. Many stories abound about how Jordan complained when his numbers went down.
During the 1966-67 season, Philadelphia76ers Coach Alex Hannum asked Wilt to pass the ball more. Chamberlain was more than willing, and for the first time in his career didn’t win the NBA scoring crown, averaging only 24.1 PPG.
However, he recorded the league’s, and his personal, best FG percentage (.683), still grabbed the rebounding title with a 24.2 RPG average, and most importantly, was third in the NBA in assists, averaging 7.8 APG.
Think about that. Most point guards today would dream of averaging 7.8 APG for a season. Wilt was a center and did it with ease. In fact, he did it so easily, that he followed that season up with an even better one, averaging an incredible 8.6 APG.
Again, can you imagine?
His sacrifice paid off, too, as the 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers posted a then NBA-Record 68-13 win-loss record, and went on to win the title against the San Francisco Warriors, having nearly swept the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals (4-1).
The 1967-68 season was nearly impressive, with the 76ers posting a 62-20 win-loss record, and losing to the eventual NBA Champion Boston Celtics in a ferociously fought seven-game Eastern Conference Finals series (4-3).
His sacrifice of his personal scoring numbers throughout the rest of his career paid off even more dividends, as he led the Los Angeles Lakers, whom he was traded to before the 1968-69 season, to four NBA Finals in the five seasons he was with them, including a title (beating the Knicks 4-1 in the Finals) during the incredible 1971-72 season in which they broke the single-season win-loss record of his former Philadelphia team, going 69-13.
Despite Wilt only averaging 14.8 PPG, 19.2 RPG, and 4.0 APG while shooting 64.9 percent from the field that season, his team’s dominance was one of the greatest we’ve ever seen from a team in the NBA.
They averaged 121 PPG as a team, while only allowing their opponents 108.7 PPG. That is a margin of victory of 12.3 PPG, the greatest in NBA history.
That 1971-72 Lakers squad led by Wilt also posted the longest winning streak in NBA history that year, winning 33 games in a row between November 5, 1971 and January 7, 1972, which is 11 full games ahead of the second longest streak by the 2007-08 Houston Rockets who won 22 in a row between January 29, 2008 and March 18, 2008.
As Bill Russell tells it, when describing how much of a team player Wilt had become, "Wilt is playing better than I used to -- passing off, coming out to set up screens, picking up guys outside, and sacrificing himself for team play." – Bill Russell, “Great Moments in Pro Basketball” (by Sam Goldaper) p. 24
Myth Five: Wilt Didn’t Play Defense
Another myth about Wilt’s game that is constantly heard is the idea he didn’t play defense. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. While Bill Russell is universally considered the greatest defensive center of his era, in reality, Wilt was at least his equal when it came to defending.
One story that illustrates this poignantly is told about an incident that occurred between rising star center Walter Bellamy of the Chicago Packers (now the Washington Wizards). Bellamy was a 6-11 245 lbs behemoth who averaged 31.6 PPG and 19.0 RPG that season, second only to Wilt in scoring.
The first time they played against each other, Bellamy is said to have approached Wilt saying, “Hello, Mr. Chamberlain. I’m Walter Bellamy.” Wilt returned his greeting, shaking his hand and saying, “Hello, Walter. You won’t get a shot off in the first half.”
And Wilt was true to his word, going out and blocking Bellamy’s first nine shots.
When the second half started, Wilt is said to have told Bellamy, “Okay, Walter, now you can play.”
This sort of playfulness is something Wilt was famous for, being a truly gentle giant in many respects. He was never one to look for a fight, and quite often had to avoid them at all costs, since he would likely kill any player he ever really got into a fight with.
A rather funny tale about Wilt illustrates this as well:
In a game against the Seattle Supersonics, one of the Sonics players, a former teammate of Wilt’s named Tom Meschery, was in the lane trying to score.
He first committed four ball fakes, and then attempted a shot. Chamberlain blocked it easily. When Meschery got it back in the lane, he tried more ball fakes, and attempted another shot, which Wilt again blocked.
Meschery, angry and frustrated, ran at Chamberlain swinging, and in a hilarious scene straight out of a comedy film, Wilt placed his hand on the 6-6 forward’s head and let him swing. After a few swings, Wilt is said to have then looked down at Meschery and state, “That’s enough.” Meschery, of course, stopped.
Myth Six: Wilt Was Tall, But He Wasn’t Superman Like Dwight Howard
Wilt’s leaping ability was incomparable. His “Sergeant” or vertical leap was higher than Michael Jordan’s at 48”. Chamberlain had won the Big 7 High Jump championship in his junior year of college.
There are great leapers today, even among centers, including the self-proclaimed “Superman” Dwight Howard. However, while Dwight is a great leaper, his ability doesn’t equal The Big Dippers’.
Many tales have been told over the years of players leaping up and touching the top of the backboard, including tales of feats involving players grabbing money from atop the board.
However, as Chamberlain himself once said about all these claims, "I defy anyone to say they took change off the top of the backboard. I could. Someone would put a quarter up and I'd snatch it down. I've heard stories about Jackie Jackson doing it, but I've never seen anyone (but himself) come close."
Of note is the fact that there have been only three seven-footers in NBA history who have led the league in rebounding. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it one time in his career. David Robinson also did it once (although Hakeem Olajuwon missed qualifying for the title by five boards and claims himself he’s only 6'11"). Wilt? He did it an astounding 11 times.
I could go on and on recounting the feats of The Big Dipper, but this article is already longer than I had originally intended it to be. However, I do believe posting some of his many accomplishments to end this piece would be in order. I believe they fully reveal what an amazing player he was, and illustrate why I believe he was the greatest player the NBA has ever seen, or ever will see.
Over the course of his career, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 30.1 PPG, 22.9 RPG, 4.4 APG, while shooting 54 percent. He almost certainly would have eclipsed by a mile the blocks per game average of today’s great centers if such statistics had been kept back then, as there are many historians who have stated he averaged double-digit blocks over the course of some seasons.
Chamberlain ended his career with a total of 31,419 total points, which at the time was an NBA record. He also ended his career with 23,924 total rebounds, which is still an NBA record. His 4,643 career assists are still the most for an NBA center, and many of his scoring records will simply never be touched.
Probably his greatest scoring feat, far more impressive even than his 100-point game against the Knicks, is the fact that he scored more than 60 points 32 times. That is more times than every other player who’s scored 60+ points in NBA history combined.
Wilt was a two-time NBA Champion, winning titles with the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967, and the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972, and led his teams to the NBA Finals six times. In five other campaigns he reached the Division (now known as the Conference) or Conference Finals, losing each time to the eventual NBA Champion—Boston four times and Milwaukee once.
In seven of the eleven Division (Conference) or NBA Finals appearances, his teams took the series to seven games five times, and another two to six games. His teams were never swept out of those Division (Conference) or NBA Finals.
And while some may see his only having two titles over his 14-year career as a short-coming of Wilt's, I can only say they need to remember that basketball, like any of the four major professional sports, is a team game, and no one player can win titles by himself (although Wilt came close).
The many teams he played on that failed to win the title were hardly comprised of Hall of Famers, as the teams they lost to, the Boston Celtics, and the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks were (Milwaukee had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, as well as Oscar Robertson, John McGlocklin, Greg Smith, Bob Boozer, and Bob Dandridge).
Wilt was a four-time NBA Regular Season MVP Award Winner (1960, ’66, ’67, and ’68); including winning this illustrious award in his rookie season of 1959-60, in which he also won Rookie of the Year. Only Wes Unseld has ever done the same, winning both the Rookie of the Year and MVP honors for the 1968-69 season.
Wilt was a two-time First-Team All-Defensive Player in his career, making the team in 1972 and 1973.
His one NBA Finals MVP Award was won in his 13th season, as he led what is still considered by many to be the greatest team in NBA history, the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, to their title of that year, averaging nearly 20 PPG and over 20 RPG in the Finals.
Although his Game Three performance in that NBA Finals was impressive, scoring 26 points and grabbing 20 boards, his most impressive performance during that 1971-72 NBA Finals came in Game Five, which no one thought he would even play in.
Chamberlain had broken his hand late in Game Four (although it was called a ‘sprain’ by the team), and it needed to be wrapped heavily for him to even take the court.
Take the court he did, and then proceeded to show exactly why he was considered such a force among his peers, scoring 24 points and grabbing 29 rebounds as the Lakers demolished the Knicks 114-100.
Also to be remembered from that years’ playoffs was the matchup Wilt’s Lakers had with the reigning NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Western Division Finals. The matchup had been hailed by “Life” magazine as the greatest matchup in all of sports.
Chamberlain is remembered most in that series for his performance in the decisive Game Six, which the Lakers won 106-100. Trailing by 10 points late in the fourth quarter, Wilt led them back to the victory, scoring 24 points and grabbing 22 rebounds. He played the entire 48 minutes of the game, not taking a single rest, and ran the 11-year younger Abdul-Jabbar into the ground, beating him on several Lakers fast breaks late in the game.
Jerry West said it was “the greatest ball-busting performance I have ever seen.” and “Time” magazine said of it, “In the NBA’s Western Division Title series with Milwaukee, he [Chamberlain] decisively outplayed basketball’s newest giant superstar…”
Throughout his 14-year career, Wilt was voted to the NBA All-Star Game thirteen times, winning the All-Star Game MVP in 1960 (his rookie season) after scoring 23 points and grabbing 25 rebounds. That, however, wasn’t even his most impressive All-Star Game performance.
In his third year in the league (1961-62), one in which he averaged an amazing 50.4 PPG for the season, and in which he had his 100-point game, he came into the All-Star Game and scored an incredible 42 points on 17-of-23 shooting while snatching 24 rebounds.
Other Notable Accomplishments
And finally, I’m just going to list some of the other amazing accomplishments Wilt had, without elaborating on them. I think they speak for themselves.
Only player in NBA history to score more than 4,000 (4029) points in a season (50.4 PPG in the 1961-62 season) while also averaging 25.7 RPG that year (2052 total rebounds)
Only player in NBA history to score more than 3,000 points twice in a season (3033 in 1960-61 season for a 38.4 PPG average, and the aforementioned 4029 points in 1961-62 season) and only player in NBA history to grab more than 2,000 rebounds in a season (2149 in 1960-61 season for an average of 27.2 RPG, and 2052 in 1961-62 as stated above)
Only player in NBA history to average more than 48 minutes per game over a season (48.5 minutes per game in the 1961-62 season).
Led the league in scoring seven years in a row. He was league’s top rebounder in 11 of his 14 seasons.
Most 60-point games (32). Most 50-point games (118). Most consecutive games with at least 40 points (14). Most consecutive games with at least 30 points (65). Most consecutive games with at least 20 points (126). Highest rookie scoring average (37.6 PPG). Highest filed-goal percentage in season (.727).
Averaged over 27 RPG his first two seasons, and more than 25 RPG his first three. Also averaged over 24 RPG six times, more than 22 RPG nine times and more than 21 RPG ten times.
Scored 1708 points and averaged 32.8 PPG over 52 playoff games in his first six playoff appearances. Grabbed 1372 rebounds and averaged 26.4 RPG over those same 52 games in first six playoff appearances.
First Six Playoff Appearances:
First appearance (nine games in 1959-60 season as rookie) averaged 33.2 PPG and 25.8 RPG in playoffs.
Second appearance (three games in 1960-61 season) averaged 37 PPG and 23 RPG in playoffs.
Third appearance (12 games in 1961-62 season) averaged 35 PPG and 26.6 RPG in playoffs.
Fourth appearance (12 games in 1963-64 season) averaged 34.7 PPG and 25.2 RPG in playoffs.
Fifth appearance (11 games in 1964-65 season) averaged 29.3 PPG and 27.2 RPG in playoffs.
Sixth appearance (five games in 1965-66 season) averaged 28.0 PPG and
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