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Steve Aschburner

Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell
Wilt Chamberlain looks to get the ball past Bill Russell in a 1967 game.
Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

Stamp of approval: The bid to commemorate Wilt's 100


Posted Mar 2 2011 11:35AM

On March 2, 1962, against the New York Knicks in famous-for-other-reasons Hershey, Pa., Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors sank 36 of 63 field-goal attempts and made 28 of his 32 free throws to set the NBA's all-time, single-game scoring record of 100 points before a crowd of 4,124 more curious than passionate fans.

Adjusting all those numbers for inflation across 49 years, we get ... 44 cents.

Maybe we get 44 cents, that is, if efforts to honor Chamberlain's feat on a commemorative U.S. postage stamp are successful this year or next -- or sometime thereafter.

"According to the Post Office, Wilt is 'under consideration,' " said Donald Hunt, a sportswriter for the black community's Philadelphia Tribune in Chamberlain's hometown and the founder of this campaign. "That's really positive, because the Post Office receives thousands of suggestions every year that don't make it that far. We're just waiting and hoping that it's going to be sooner rather than later. A lot of Wilt's colleagues and family are getting older, you know."

Like Jimmy Sadler, who played three seasons with Chamberlain at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, where they posted a 58-3 record. "It's overdue, really. If any athletes should be on a stamp, it's him," Sadler said. "Wilt was it. When you say 'it,' Wilt was it. He could do it all."

Getting Chamberlain in wide circulation on the upper corner of cards and letters was an idea that Hunt hatched in a column three years ago. He had seen the USPS series of Black Heritage stamps, dating to 1978, honoring black Americans such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jackie Robinson and others. A stamp featuring former Texas congresswoman Barbara Jordan will be released in September, succeeding the 2010 issue with black film director Oscar Micheaux.

Sports, coaches and athletes have been among more than 5,000 subjects featured on general-release U.S. postage stamps dating to 1847. Last June, two stamps dedicated to baseball's Negro Leagues were issued with one depicting founder Rube Foster and the other showing a play at home plate.

"They introduced those stamps at the Negro League museum in Kansas City," Hunt said this week, "and I saw how they gave out so much information and history. They could get that in schools and kids could learn about Wilt. It would be great for the NBA, too." Hunt has gathered signatures on petitions and recommendations from NBA commissioner David Stern, Jerry West, Pat Riley, Billy Cunningham and various Philadelphia and Pennsylvania officials, while hoping for President Obama's support as well.

Like Babe Ruth, Chamberlain is a larger-than-life figure whose exploits -- both real and (ahem) imagined -- seem like something out of a comic book. Getting Chamberlain on a first-class stamp, even in these days of e-mails and text messages, could introduce new generations and remind older ones of his impact -- at Kansas, with the Harlem Globetrotters and as the most dominating player in NBA history across his 14 seasons.

It would be an opportunity, too, to reassess the man, to whom the pop-culture shorthand of 100 points and 20,000 women doesn't do justice.

"I don't think people really know what Wilt was all about, as far as his charitable work and giving back," Barbara Chamberlain Lewis, one of his sisters, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "When he got into the NBA, he really had to play the way they wanted him to play, to appeal to the crowds. But how he was away from games, I don't think people really know."

Chamberlain already has been honored with a statue outside the Wells Fargo Center where the 76ers play and his jersey number 13 hangs in the arena's rafters. His 31,419 points scored and his 30.1 career scoring average stood as the NBA's best until Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan caught him. The 7-foot-1, 275-pound center for the Warriors, 76ers and Lakers was a four-time Most Valuable Player, a 13-time All-Star, the Rookie of the Year in 1960, the Finals MVP in 1972 and a 1979 inductee to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame -- even as rumors persisted he might be lured into a comeback at age 43.

He was a no-brainer pick as one of the Top 50 players when the NBA celebrated its golden anniversary in 1997 -- I was at the table in the banquet hall when he regaled reporters with stories on Friday of All-Star Weekend in Cleveland. Even now, 38 years after his final game and 12 years after his death of heart disease at age 63, Chamberlain remains a Mt. Rushmore figure in league history. He transformed the NBA with his spectacular size, strength and athletic ability.

He also altered a few lives, his sister said. "Jack Twyman [a Hall of Famer and lifelong friend to disabled NBA star Maurice Stokes] always told how Wilt got on a plane and left Europe to play in a benefit game for Maurice. Then he paid his own way back to Europe, too, to catch up with the Globetrotters," Lewis said.

"That was so typical of him. I remember so distinctly how he helped people get summer jobs back when we all were in school. Operation Smile. The Peter Westbrook Foundation. He was doing this stuff long before 'NBA Cares' [programs]. He [endowed] scholarships where the students getting them didn't even know who he was. Oh, some of the boys did hear of 'Wilt The Stilt.' "

Among basketball legends, only Naismith himself, the game's inventor, has been featured on a stamp. He was honored in 1961 when first-class postage cost 4 cents, said USPS spokesman Roy Betts. A few stamps have honored the sport of basketball in a general sense, including a "player" stamp in 1983, an Olympics edition in 1996 and a youth-sports stamp in 2000.

But no specific players -- not George Mikan, not Pete Maravich -- have been featured. Few, of course, are in any hurry, given the requirement that an individual be deceased for at least five years before being eligible for commemoration.

Still, that might not even be the toughest hurdle in getting approved. The Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee is a 14- person body that meets four times annually, filtering bushels of requests and ideas to barely two dozen each year.

Said Betts: "We receive tens of thousands of suggestions and the committee boils that down to about 25 to send to the Postmaster General. He [Patrick Donahoe currently holds that position] decides but rarely strays from what the committee suggests."

Betts said that, with a Chamberlain stamp already "under consideration," the toughest part of the process already is past. But he said that letters of support for a nominee already being considered cannot hurt.

Here is the committee address (e-mails and phone calls are not accepted):

Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
c/o Stamp Development
U.S. Postal Service
475 L'Enfant Plaza SW, room 3300
Washington, DC 20260-3501

The "stamp class" of 2012 will be known to Betts in late August, he said, with a public announcement in the fall. One of the committee's selection criteria is that "events of historical significance shall be considered for commemoration only on anniversaries in multiples of 50 years," the date of March 2, 2012 -- the 50th anniversary of Chamberlain's 100-point game -- would seem a perfect opportunity to honor both the man and that moment.

"If you get 5,000 letters for a single subject, it gets noticed. It's on the committee's radar," Betts said. "So the suspense builds."

If successful, the Chamberlain efforts would lead to one other bit of suspense: How to fit the man's Goliath-scale accomplishments, massive frame and outsized personality into a little box approximately 1 inch x 1 inches.

It is worth a try.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA for 25 years. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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