NBA Legend: Wilt Chamberlain, The Unstoppable Force
Wilton Norman “Wilt” Chamberlain (August 8, 1936 – October 12, 1999) also known as “Wilt The Stilt”, “The Big Dipper”, amongst other nicknames, played 14 remarkable seasons in the NBA from 1959 to 1973.
Physically, Wilt Chamberlain was as big as any of the league’s giant centers and more athletically gifted than most. At 7’ in socks, weighing 275 lbs when he entered the NBA, and 300 lbs later on. Wilt was credited with being able to bench press 500 lbs, run a 440 yard sprint in 49 seconds, and high jump 6’ 6’’.
Perhaps he was most famous for scoring 100 points in a game, but that single amazing scoring accomplishment should be considered as only the inevitable highlight of the game’s most unstoppable offensive player.
Wilt’s famous quotes and his contemporaries unbelievable stories about him are worthy of their own re-telling. There are many stories of Wilt stopping altercations by picking up players weighing over 230 lbs like they were children and advising them that there would no more of that.
Suffice it to say Wilt was perhaps the strongest athlete to ever suit up for an NBA game and his life was as colorful as any who has ever played.
Even after 35 years, many of Wilt Chamberlain’s personal bests still represent the highest ever achieved in the NBA and it is highly unlikely that many of them will ever be surpassed.
One has to wonder just how much higher Chamberlain’s stats could have been if it were not for the NBA’s rule that prevented players from entering the league until after 4 seasons of college ball.
Wilt would have been an obvious candidate to jump straight to the NBA out of high school. In his freshman year at Kansas, already 7’ tall and 225 lbs, Wilt led his freshman team to victory against the varsity squad, scoring 42 points.
It could be argued that Wilt Chamberlain would have easily added 10,000 points and 6,000 rebounds to his already unbelievable career totals by playing 4 more years at the start of his NBA career.
The NBA did not officially include block shots and steals until after Chamberlain’s retirement thus denying him the opportunity to hold official records for those stats or some of the numerous special statistical categories that we follow today. Chamberlain and his contemporaries would have likely held many of those records to the present day.
Following are some of the astounding statistics in points, rebounds, assists, special stats, and minutes played held by one of the greatest players to ever grace the NBA.
Chamberlain, A Scoring Machine
Over Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA career, Wilt scored 31,419 points, 4th in league history and averaged 30.1 points per games, effectively tied for 1st with Michael Jordan (a slight percentage point advantage to Michael).
Chamberlain led the NBA in scoring for 7 consecutive years, a feat that has only been matched by Jordan.
Wilt’s season, total points, and points per game were as follows:
1. 1959-60 2,707 37.6
2. 1960-61 3,033 38.4
3. 1961-62 4,029 50.4
4. 1962-63 3,586 44.8
5. 1963-64 2,948 36.9
6. 1964-65 2,534 34.7
7. 1965-66 2,649 33.5
• 1966-67 1,956 24.1
• 1967-68 1,992 24.3
• 1968-69 1,664 20.5
• 1969-70 328 27.3
• 1970-71 1,696 20.7
• 1971-72 1,213 14.8
• 1972-73 1,084 13.2
Chamberlain’s 1961-62 and 1962-63 seasons’ scoring remains the highest offensive output to ever be recorded in the NBA. Wilt’s 1961-62 season surpassed Michael Jordan’s best season (and 3rd all-time) by almost 1,000 points.
No player has ever approached the 4,000 point in a season mark since and no one reasonably expects this standard to ever be surpassed.
The closest present day player to Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record is Kobe Bryant at 7th with 2,832 points in 2005-06. Shaquille O'Neal’s best season was in 1993-94 with 2,377 points, good for 57th all-time.
Chamberlain’s individual game scoring records are equally spectacular.
Including the record holding 100 point game, Wilt Chamberlain scored 60 or more points a record 32 times. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are tied for 2nd surpassing 60 points 5 times each.
When Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game, it took several days for the accomplishment to sink in. Everyone had expected Wilt to break his own record of 78 points set early that season and scoring 60 or more points in a game had become something less than special.
Wilt scored over 50 points, 118 times, set the rookie record for points in a game at 58 and still holds the highest rookie scoring average of 37.6.
Chamberlain holds multiple NBA record for consecutive game scoring too.
40+ points, 14 games
30+ points, 65 games
20+ points, 126 games
Chamberlain was more than volume shooter; Wilt was a skilled finisher and always shot a high percentage, averaging 54% for his career. Wilt holds an NBA record with 18 consecutive field goals.
In his final 2 seasons, Wilt Chamberlain set records for field goal percentages that still stand. In 1971-72, Chamberlain made over 68% of his shots from the field, good for 2nd best all-time. In his final season, he bettered this making 72.7% of his shots, the highest mark ever achieved.
Wilt “The Stilt” Rebounds
Being tall doesn’t hurt, but being tall and athletic makes prolific rebounding numbers possible. Wilt Chamberlain collected 23,924 rebounds over his career, averaging 22.9 boards a game, both NBA records.
Playing in an era with one of best rebounders in league history, Chamberlain led the league in rebounds for 11 of his 14 seasons.
Only the Celtics Bill Russell managed to break Chamberlain’s dominance in 1963-64 and again in 1964-65. Chamberlain played in only 12 regular season games in 1969-70 due to a serious knee injury thus losing the rebounding battle to HOF player Elvin Hayes who had “only” 1,386 boards.
Chamberlain’s rebounding numbers, by season, rebounds, and rebounds per game were as follows:
• 1959-60 1,941 27.0
• 1960-61 2,149 27.2
• 1961-62 2,052 25.7
• 1962-63 1,946 24.3
• 1963-64 1,787 22.3
• 1964-65 1,673 22.9
• 1965-66 1,943 24.6
• 1966-67 1,957 24.2
• 1967-68 1,952 23.8
• 1968-69 1,712 21.1
• 1969-70 221 18.4
• 1970-71 1,493 18.2
• 1971-72 1,572 19.2
• 1972-73 1,526 18.6
Wilt Chamberlain holds the 7 highest rebounding season totals by any player in the NBA. He also holds the rookie rebounding record of 45 boards in a game.
Playing against one another for most of their careers, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell combined for the 18 highest rebounding seasons ever.
For comparison: Dennis Rodman at 28th for his 1991-92 season with 1,530 boards; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is 48th with 1,383 rebounds in 1975-76; at 119th was Dwight Howard 2 seasons ago with 1,161; and Shaq’s best season places him 141st with 1,122 boards in 1992-93.
Chamberlain also set some astounding individual game rebounding marks.
Wilt set the all-time individual mark of 55 rebounds against the Boston Celtics on November 24, 1960.
Between 1959 and 1967, Chamberlain tore down 40 or more boards in a game on 15 separate occasions. Bill Russell is the only other player to have ever breached the 40 rebounds in a game barrier in the NBA.
Assists and Special Stats From the Big Dipper
In the 1967-68 season in Philadelphia, Wilt Chamberlain set another NBA record unlikely to be to matched. Wilt Chamberlain led the NBA in assists with 702, beating out HOF point guard Lenny Wilkens.
While there is nothing particularly outstanding amount the number of assists, it was the only time a center has led the NBA in assists. Also, it is likely the first, and possibly the last time any player will, over the course of their career, lead the league in scoring, rebounding, and assists in different seasons (or at all).
Special stats are the sizzle that stirs the drink for many NBA fans. Double-doubles, triple doubles, and quad-doubles are the expected flavours. How about double double-doubles, or triple double-doubles, or quadruple double-doubles. (better than 20 and 20, 30 and 30, or 40 and 40, in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks)
Wilt Chamberlain made double-doubles, yawn. He made them so often he ended every single season of his NBA career with a double-double average in scoring and rebounding, or better.
For his career, Wilt averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds over 1,045 games, a double double-double average. No other player in NBA history has even come close to averaging a double double-double. (Only 2 players have ever averaged more than 20 rebounds per game over a career.)
The NBA didn’t officially record stats like block or steals when Wilt Chamberlain played and the NBA doesn’t provide double-double stats for players from the era either. However, logic would tell you Karl Malone’s 779 double-double record would be in serious jeopardy if someone were to count the double-doubles made by players from earlier years.
Chamberlain is the only NBA player to ever record a quadruple double-double (40 & 40) and he did it eight times.
The triple-double represents a unique challenge to the players of Wilt Chamberlain’s era as the NBA didn’t officially count blocks or steals. However, as Chamberlain’s game developed, he became a real triple-double threat.
In the 1967-68 season, Wilt managed 9 consecutive triple-doubles, an NBA record and 31 triple-doubles, second only to Oscar Robertson’s NBA single season record of 41. Chamberlain sits in 4th place all-time with 78 triple-doubles, an amazing accomplishment for a center of any era.
On February 2, 1968, in a game against Detroit, Wilt Chamberlain managed a double triple-double of 22 points, 21 assists, and 25 rebounds, a stat line unlikely to be ever seen again.
Chamberlain was known for his ability to reject a shot. It is unfortunate that we only have unofficial stats with which to give us an idea of his unique abilities.
Unofficially, in Wilt Chamberlain’s first NBA game his stat line was 43 points, 28 rebounds, and 17 blocks*. Unofficially, in game 5 of the NBA finals in 1972, Wilt, at the age of 35 and playing with a fractured wrist, led his team to the championship playing all 48 minutes with 24 points, 29 rebounds, and 10 blocks*. Unofficial* means this information is not readily available and not verifiable by using NBA provided stats. But it should be apparent; Wilt’s full stat line is grossly understated by today’s standards.
Chamberlain, The Marathon Man
An often overlooked aspect of Wilt’s game is just how many minutes he actually played.
Most impressive is the 48.5 minute per game average from the 1961-62 season. Wilt played 79 complete games for 3,882 minutes during that regular season, a record that still stands. He ended the season playing 47 complete games in a row.
Chamberlain led the league in minutes played for 8 seasons. But he always played more minutes than anyone would expect a modern player to average over a season. Over the course of his career, Chamberlain averaged 45.8 minutes per game.
His career minutes played and average minutes per game were:
• 1959-60 3,338 46.4
• 1960-61 3,773 47.8
• 1961-62 3,882 48.5
• 1962-63 3,806 47.6
• 1963-64 3,689 46.1
• 1964-65 3,301 45.2
• 1965-66 3,737 47.3
• 1966-67 3,682 45.5
• 1967-68 3,836 46.8
• 1968-69 3,669 45.3
• 1969-70 505 42.1
• 1970-71 3,630 44.3
• 1971-72 3,469 42.3
• 1972-73 3,542 43.2
The closest modern day players to rack up these types of minutes are: 34th, Latrell Sprewell’s 3,533 minutes in 1993-94; and, the 47th place, Allen Iverson’s 3,485 minutes in 2002-03.
Comparisons between players for minutes per game stats are not provided by the NBA prior to 1986. However, the players with the most minutes in their careers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (57,446 minutes, 36.8 minutes per game) and Karl Malone (54,852 minutes, 37.2 minutes per game) did not come close to averaging the minutes per game played by Wilt Chamberlain (48.5), Bill Russell(42.3), or Oscar Robertson(42.2).
Wilt Chamberlain is 4th all-time in minutes played.
And, Wilt never fouled out of a game in his NBA career!
The oft made compliant about the stats from Chamberlain’s era is the speed of the game was much faster providing the stars more opportunity to obtain better stats. Outside of Chamberlain and Russell, no one has ever averaged 20 rpg over a career and only 3 other players have ever done it in a season, from any era.
The pace may have been faster, but one would have expected this to have a negative on scoring from the center position. Russell only averaged 15 ppg over his career, but Chamberlain was different. An athletic center that could and did play complete games at that accelerated pace. Would we expect any of our modern day centers to play complete games, high pace or not?!
Summarizing the “Big Dipper”
The NBA’s Wilt Chamberlain (1959-1973) at a glance.
The NBA’s rookie leader with season averages of 37.6 ppg and 27 rpg. And single game highs of 58 points and 45 rebounds.
A career double double-double of 30.1 ppg and 22.9 rpg.
Only player to average over 50 ppg and score over 4,000 points in a season.
Only player to score 100 points in a game. Scored 60 or more points 32 times.
Owns the best field goal percentage for any season of 72.7%.
Holds the rebounding records of 55 in a game, 2,149 in a season, and 23,924 in a career.
Holds the record for consecutive triple-doubles at 9.
Has the only double triple-double of 22 points, 21 assists, and 25 rebounds.
Has the only quadruple double-double (8 times).
Only center to lead the NBA in assists.
Played 79 complete games in a season.
Won his second NBA Championship with a fractured wrist, playing all 48 minutes in the final game and recording an (unofficial) triple-double.
Never fouled out, ever!