By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com
Posted Mar 2 2012 8:36AM
Season of Giants: 1961-62
NBA.com celebrates the 50th anniversary of a legendary season
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Scientists who study such things have said the eruption of the Krakatoa volcano on Aug. 27, 1883 was the single loudest explosion in recorded human history.
Of course, none of them were inside the Hershey Sports Arena on March 2, 1962 when Wilt Chamberlain put a match to a powder keg and blew up every boundary, every limit, every farthest corner of anyone's wildest imagination.
From a perch a half-century later, it remains the most dominating one-game performance ever in sports, a feat so overwhelming in scope that many have spent the ensuing years sneering in equal parts derision and disbelief.
It is as if we have been asked to accept Paul Bunyan riding a unicorn down the streets of Atlantis -- a myth stretched too far.
"Man, I can't even begin to get my head around scoring 100 points in a game," said Kevin Durant, the NBA's reigning two-time scoring champ. "That's not a place that my mind can even go."
But Hall of Famer, friend and rival Bill Russell has a different view.
"I hear guys say that he couldn't have played in a different time, done the things that he did back then today," Russell said. "I'm telling you, that's bull----. If Wilt were playing today, he would be even more dominant than he was then."
The only comparable yardstick in sports annals is when Bob Beamon soared through the thin air of Mexico City at the 1968 Olympics for a leap of 29-2 ½ in the long jump, breaking the existing world record by nearly two mind-boggling feet. But the event was televised live to every corner of the planet and videotape still exists of Beamon falling to his knees in the sand pit, then burying his head into his hands in shock at his own effort.
When Kobe Bryant scored 81 points -- the second-highest total in league history -- on Jan. 22, 2006, it was right there in HDTV in our living rooms, available for purchase on DVD a day later, tangible proof.
But when Wilt captured lightning in a bottle, it occurred in a gray, gloomy, nondescript building before a half-full crowd of 4,124 in a small central Pennsylvania town without a single TV camera rolling, the lasting iconic still photo simply a shot of Chamberlain holding up a piece of paper with "100" scrawled by hand, and with many of the eyewitnesses caught in a haze of history, in conflict over what they saw.
The game is cloaked in so many unknown quantities and unanswered questions one might think it was played on the enigmatic island where Oceanic Flight 815 crashed in "Lost."
What is certain is that Wilt's Philadelphia Warriors defeated the New York Knicks 169-147, that he made 36 of 63 field goal attempts and 28 of 32 free throws, an amazing number for a career 50-percent foul shooter.
What remains unsure, incredibly, is how the most famous basket in the history of the league was scored with 46 seconds left in the game. Bill Campbell, the Warriors radio play-by-play man, can be heard on an audiotape of the fourth quarter shouting: "He made it! He made it! He made it! A Dipper Dunk!" Harvey Pollack, the team publicist and statistician, also says it was a dunk.
But teammate Joe Ruklick, the backup center whose only assist of the game came from throwing the historic pass to Chamberlain, insists that Wilt scored on one of his other trademark moves -- a finger roll that he made fashionable long before the world ever heard of George Gervin. And Wilt himself was once quoted as saying it was a 7- to 8-foot jumper.
Al Attles, who was the Warriors' second-leading scorer that night with 17 points, says he can't even remember the century shot.
"That part is all kind of a blur," said Attles, who was Chamberlain's closest friend on the team and kept that bond until the big man's death on Oct. 2, 1999. "What I know is that it was the greatest performance I have ever seen in sports. What I remember is coming into the locker room and seeing him sitting there with a sad look on his face.
"I walked up to him and said, 'What's the matter, Big Fella?' He said, 'Al, I can't believe I took 63 shots. That's too many.' I told him, 'Are you kidding me? You made 36 of them.'
"It bothers me when I hear people say that Wilt was selfish, because he was far from that. He did what our coach, Frank McGuire, wanted him to do that season. He did what was necessary. We won the game. That's what matters."
In hindsight, perhaps what mattered most was that Chamberlain's singular achievement to punctuate a breathtaking season in which he averaged 50.4 points and 27.4 per game is what catapulted the NBA into the public eye and started its upward climb to becoming a major sports league.
Gary Pomerantz, author of "Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era," compares Chamberlain's arrival in the NBA and that night in particular to what it must have felt like for the Plains Indians when they got their first glimpse of a locomotive in the 19th century -- awesome, powerful and beyond comprehension.
"Remember, we had plenty of great players, but there was nothing big-time about the NBA before Wilt came along," said Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, who became the only player in league history to average a triple-double in that same season. "Wilt was already a star before that. But when he scored 100 points, oh, suddenly everybody had to come out and see him and the rest of us."
That Chamberlain would get to the 100-point level was not at all unthinkable to some of his peers, his feat less a bolt of lightning than a rolling thunder that had been ominously been building. That's because he had already had games of 73 and 78 points early in the season and in three games leading into Hershey had scored 67, 65 and 61.
"My first reaction when I heard that he scored 100 was, 'I'm sure glad he wasn't playing against us,' " said a cackling Russell. "It definitely wasn't a complete surprise to me and I don't think he shocked everybody in the league by doing that. A lot of us always thought it could happen and a lot of guys probably feared that it could happen to them.
"When he scored 100 points, I thought that was great. Like I said, I'm glad it wasn't against us. But I was not in awe of that. He was another guy that played the game, just like me, just like a lot of us. He happened to be very good. Very, very good.
"What you've got to look at is all of those free throws that he made that night. Here's a notoriously bad free throw shooter making 28 out of 32. You put that on top of all of the other stuff he could do and that's how you take it to that next level. Of course, you also had to have some pretty bad defense being played. I don't care what they say on that other side, but they contributed."
It was a meaningless game near the end of the regular season, the Warriors having already clinched their No. 2 spot in the Eastern Division standings and the Knicks firmly buried in last place.
The Knicks had to play without their regular starting center Phil Jordon, who remained back in his Hershey hotel room, sick and vomiting from the flu. Darrall "Big D" Imhoff got the defensive assignment on Chamberlain to begin, but picked up three fouls in the first quarter and coach Eddie Donovan replaced him with Cleveland Buckner, a 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward who didn't stand a chance.
There are so many fuzzy details, so many conflicting tales of everything surrounding the game.
In his 1973 autobiography, Wilt wrote, "I had a date with a fine young lady in New York the night before the game ... and by the time we were through enjoying ourselves, it was 6 o'clock in the morning. I drove her to her place in Queens and then caught an 8 a.m. train to Philly."
Chamberlain claimed that he then rode the team bus to Hershey, but most of the teammates don't recall him on the trip. Actually, he drove his own car to Hershey, arrived at the arena hours before tip-off and wound up squaring off with 24-second clock operator Kenny Berman in a rifle shootout at a penny arcade on the concourse. Wilt said that he couldn't miss hitting the little bear targets, set the record for the machine and cleaned up in side bets.
"I guess that should have tipped me off about what to expect in the game that night," Chamberlain wrote.
Wilt had 69 points after three quarters and going into the final period, public address announcer Dave Zinkoff began calling out his running total with each basket.
"We're just conjecturing how much he can make," the broadcaster Campbell told his radio audience. "He's got nine minutes and 24 seconds and the guesses are running as high as one hundred. Wouldn't that be something?"
It wasn't something that Knicks star Richie Guerin, an ex-Marine, wanted to see or experience. Guerin was furious that Chamberlain remained in the game after breaking his own scoring record of 78 points and grew hotter when it became obvious that Wilt's teammates were feeding him the ball to get to 100.
"The game itself was almost forgotten about," Guerin had said. "It wasn't played the way it was meant to be played."
"Wilt was unbelievable, but the game was a farce," Imhoff said later.
The Knicks have always snarled that the Warriors fouled them to stop the clock and get the ball back. But the Warriors reply that it was the Knicks who fouled Chamberlain's teammates in order to prevent him from getting the ball.
"Look at the boxscore. They had more fouls (32-25)," Attles said. "If you don't want him to score 100 points, stop him."
Guy Rodgers, who had 20 assists on the night, threw a long pass to Chamberlain that he caught and missed. Philly's Ted Lukenbill got the rebound, passed it to Chamberlain and he missed again. Lukenbill got the rebound once more and passed it to Ruklick, who lobbed the ball toward the bucket.
Wilt caught it -- and depending on whom you believe -- either dunked it or made a finger roll (or something else) for his 99th and 100th points, sending the crowd spilling onto the court.
For years, Attles maintained that the final 46 seconds were never played, the game not actually completed. But he's since accepted that it happened. So much confusion.
Wilt spent years telling the tale of how he hitched a ride home to New York with Willie Naulls and several other Knicks players. He said he kept falling asleep in the backseat, only to wake up every time the car stopped to hear the Knicks still saying, "Can you believe that SOB scored 100 points on us?" In Wilt's version, when the Knicks finally dropped him off at home, he said, "Gee, guys, I'm real sorry about those 100 points."
According to Naulls, it was just the two of them in the car and Wilt was driving. It was, after all, his car.
Matt Guokas Jr., who would become a teammate of Chamberlain on the 76ers club that won the 1967 championship, was then a high school senior in Philly.
"In those days, we were limited to only a few hours of TV or radio a week during the school year, so I went to my room and turned on the game for the start of the fourth quarter," Guokas said. "Of course, I was glued to the radio to the finish."
Across town at the same time, another typical teenaged basketball fan learned what was happening.
"I remember my Dad calling me down to the kitchen that night, where the radio sat on the counter, and we listened to the fourth quarter," said Al Cummings. "Twenty-five years later, KNBR replayed the unearthed tape, and I'm making dinner in San Francisco and listening to Bill Campbell's call of the fourth quarter, and remembering my Dad and the kitchen. And through my tears that night I saw and remembered it all. We ended up with takeout Thai for dinner."
Half a century after Wilt became basketball's Krakatoa, he can still make the ground tremble.
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