NBA: Is Wilt Chamberlain the Most Undersold Superstar in NBA History?

Kelly Scaletta@@KellyScalettaFeatured ColumnistMarch 9, 2011

Kevin Love broke the post-merger NBA record with his 51st consecutive double-double last night.

The reason that's qualified by "post-merger" is that it's not even close to the NBA record; Wilt Chamberlain holds that record with 227.

Let that sink in for a moment. It merits being spelled out—two-hundred twenty-seven consecutive double-doubles. 

Wilt Chamberlain dominated the game of basketball like no other individual in the history of the game. His double-double streak ran for nearly three complete seasons. He averaged more than 50 points per game for an entire season, and he holds the three best scoring seasons in NBA history.

He led the league in rebounding 11 times. He has the three best rebounding seasons in league history, as well as six of the seven best. His career rebounding average is 22.9.

Bill Russell is the only other payer in the history of the NBA to ever have a season that tops Wilt's career average. 

In the worst season of his entire career, he averaged 20 points and 18 rebounds to go with four assists. He is the only person in the history of the NBA to lead the league in points, rebounds and assists for a season at any point in his career. 

In the course of his career, he scored 50 points or more 118 times. In the history of the NBA, the feat has been accomplished a total of 389 times. That means Wilt, by himself, accounts for more than 30 percent of the 50-point games in league history.

Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Allen Iverson, Karl Malone, Dominique Wilkins, Tracy McGrady, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony combined only have 100. 

Chamberlain accounts for 32 of the 60 games of 60 points or more and six of the 10 games of 70 or more. 

He once attempted 1,363 free throws in a single season. That's nearly 400 more than anyone in the history of the NBA.

And you think Shaq and Howard have it tough? Wilt scored 30 or more points for 65 consecutive games and scored 40 points for 14 consecutive games. 

Some say he was just "a man among boys," and he wasn't that athletic. Perhaps a story about how he was responsible for the change in the rules regarding free throws while in high school will dispel that notion: 

"He would stand at the top of the key, throw the ball up toward the basket, take two steps, jump toward the rim and jam the ball through the net. Doing this resulted in basketball rules to state that a player cannot cross the plane of the free throw line when shooting a free-throw." Is that athletic enough for you? 

If that doesn't work, how about the fact that after he retired, he became a professional volleyball player and was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame as well?

The stories about him only add to the mystique.

Legend is he once dunked a ball so hard he broke a teammate's toe. Another time during a game, a fight erupted, and he broke up a scrum by picking up a player like a "sack of potatoes"—as one player described it—with one hand!

People have diminished Wilt's accomplishments in part because they are so enormous and unfathomable that they almost seem unreal.  His height was remarkable for his time, but not completely unheard of. By the time Wilt came into the league, he was the tallest player ever, but he was only the sixth player to reach 6'11" or taller.

During the course of his career, 31 other players stood at least that tall and five were at least as tall as Wilt. Of those, the only one that came close to Wilt's dominance was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Certainly his height was an advantage, but the reports of his advantages are a bit overblown. He wasn't battling with a bunch of six-foot players, and there was no shortage of players 6'9" or taller. 

The other dismissal comes because of his relative lack of championships compared to Bill Russell. Not taking away anything from Russell, it should be mentioned though that he was surrounded by Hall-of-Fame players throughout his career. At one time, he played with seven other Hall-of-Fame players on one team.

That's as many as Wilt played with over the course of his entire career. 

The two did battle 142 times in their careers, either in the regular season or postseason; Russell won 85 of those games, Wilt's team won 57. Statistically, Wilt regularly won the battle, but in terms of the game, he lost the war. He averaged 28.7 points against Russell and scored more than 50 points on him on seven occasions. Russell never scored more than 37 on Wilt. 

In essence, the fault for the losses couldn't really be placed on Wilt or the credit on Russell. As great a defender as Russell was, it's hard to attribute a victory to the defense of a man who gave up 50 points. To the victor go the spoils though, and Russell gets the credit for the championships.  

Perhaps if he'd won more rings and more of those battles, Wilt would be more widely regarded now.

Perhaps not though.

He didn't have the most media-friendly personality. Heavy criticism of the NBA in a Sports Illustrated interview titled, "My Life in a Bush League" (in two articles which can be read here and here) didn't earn him any favors.

Publicly, he had some serious image issues. 

His endorsement of Nixon and condemnation of the Black Panthers alienated him from blacks, and his stated affection for white women before desegregation alienated him from whites.

Rules have changed in basketball, and a lot of them are because of him. His records, the 50-point season, the 100-point game and the 55-rebound game will never be broken. He was one of the most unique and dominant athletes of any sport in any era, and in some ways, that works against him.

He was so dominant that it makes him untouchable, and as a result, it makes him not count. 

Some of those records, like the 227 straight double-doubles and the 48.5 minutes per game, bespeak a consistent character and a special achievement that shouldn't be glossed over in the pages of history.

So with all due respect to Kevin Love, he has a long way to go before he really breaks the record. 


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