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Fran Blinebury

Fans showed up to Wells Fargo Center to remember Wilt Chamberlain's historic night 50 years ago.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

Philly celebrates Wilt's timeless achievement with flair

Posted Mar 3 2012 12:26AM

PHILADELPHIA -- In the countdown to the 50th anniversary of the epic 100-point game, the story was reborn, revisited and reverberated around the basketball world.

Finally, on Friday night, Wilt Chamberlain's memory returned home in a warm, embracing celebration to commemorate the mind-boggling and historic event that had taken place a half-century ago.

"This is amazing. It's special. I never expected this night to be this fabulous," said Barbara Lewis, one of three of Chamberlain's sisters to attend the game at the Wells Fargo Center. "The people of the 76ers organization and the people of Philadelphia did so many things tonight to say, 'Wilt, we love you. We're all at home. You're our guy. We do appreciate everything you've ever done.' It was all so perfectly planned."

Not entirely. The fact that the Warriors, the franchise Wilt played for on the night of the 100 points, were in Philly to play the Sixers, with whom he won a championship in 1967, for the anniversary was merely a bit of splendid serendipity.

"Are you kidding? When we had to put this 66-game schedule together in about an hour at the end of the lockout, I didn't have time to think of anniversaries," said NBA schedule maker Matt Winnick. "It was strictly coincidence."

But a perfect bit of symmetry and poetry that the Sixers used to throw a nice party. Family members, friends, teammates and a handful of witnesses to the evening of March 2, 1962 in Hershey, Pa. when Wilt exploded into the record books by making 36 of 63 shots from the field and 28 of 32 free throws, were on hand to celebrate with a crowd of 18,323. Each fan who attended was given a specially-mounted 2" x 2" square from the original floor at the Hersey Sports Arena that night and Chamberlain's three sisters -- Lewis, Selena Gross and Margaret Lane -- were given much larger sections of the floor during a halftime ceremony. The fans also received a 105-83 Sixers win.

Barry Powell, 68, was a high school senior in 1962 when he and three buddies piled into a car and made the 30-mile trip from their home in Birdsboro, Pa. to see their first professional basketball game.

"It was probably around halftime when Wilt was already piling up points (41) and people started talking that we might see something very special," Powell said. "We thought maybe a record, but none of us imagined 100 points.

Powell and his friends were sitting at the opposite end of the court when Chamberlain scored the bucket for 100 and they joined the crowd that stormed out onto the floor. Powell's joyous moment became immortalized when the next day's newspaper carried a photo of him on the court right next to Wilt in the pandemonium.

"It's been in books and magazines and so many papers through the years," Powell said. "That's me shaking Wilt's hand and patting his butt."

There were old faces and old memories and old stories walking up and down the hallways.

"I first met Dip when we were in third or fourth grade and he was always the most competitive guy you've ever seen," said Marty Hughes, who was a teammate of Chamberlain's at Overbrook High when they won two city championships. "No matter what you were doing -- playing ball, running track, walking to the store -- Dip was the guy who was always going to be first.

"I wasn't surprised at all that he scored 100 points in a game. I'd seen him score 90 in a 32-minute high school game and that wasn't even hard for him. This was a guy who could do anything he wanted on the basketball court. I was just smart enough to hang around him and throw him passes."

Philadelphia Tribune columnist Donald Hunt has been on a four-year campaign to get Chamberlain honored on a U.S. postage stamp, an honor that would be the first for any basketball player. He's collected a petition with 55,000 signatures, organized a luncheon on Friday afternoon.

"Wilt fits the criteria and is under consideration for 2013," Hunt said. "You can see from the emotion that is in this building tonight what he means to Philadelphia. But what this experience has shown me when I get mail from so many different countries is that Wilt is a worldwide name. So we're hopeful."

Teammate Al Attles, who was the Warriors' second-leading scorer in the historic 169-147 win over the New York Knicks with 17 points on perfect 8-for-8 and 1-for-1 shooting, made the trip in from his home in San Francisco.

"Over all these years, I've always told people that as great a basketball player as Wilt was, he was better person," Attles said. "I was privileged to have him as a friend."

No one in the arena, of course, knew Chamberlain like his sisters.

"Since I'm older than him, the first thing I always think of about my brother is thank God that He didn't make me the 7-footer and waited for Wilt," said Gross. "It was with God's help that he was as big as he was. But from the time that he was a boy, whatever he did, he always gave it his best."

Lewis was living on an Army base with her husband in Tacoma, Wash. on the night Wilt got 100.

"He had come to visit just a week earlier during a break in the NBA schedule," she said. "He spent the day with my husband and me and all of our friends kept asking me who the tall guy was. They thought he might be Wilt. I told them no, he was just a friend.

"Then a week later my neighbor comes banging on my door and says, 'You know that tall guy that was at your house? Well, somebody who sure looks like him just scored 100 points in a game.'

"I went: 'Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy!' slammed the door, ran upstairs and turned on the TV. We didn't have a phone so I didn't get to talk to him for a week."

Lewis was one year younger, but because Wilt missed a year due to a medical condition, they went through almost all of their school years in the same grade.

"He drove me to my prom," she said. "We were so close that people always thought we were twins.

"Maybe it was because of his height. But my mother always said he was gonna be special. She always said, 'If anything ever happens to me, I know that Wilt will be the one who'll take care of the whole family.' She said that all the time. She said God made him special and she wasn't talking about basketball.

"I think of this guy who when he came home from anywhere, his presence took over the whole house. He and my mother had a presence that was elating. He inherited that from her. The joy he brought all the time, all of the things that he gave us, and I'm not talking just about monetarily. When he hit the door he always had a little something -- a story, a tale, a love, a hug. I'll tell you, I miss that guy. I miss him terribly."

Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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