Posted Feb 1 2006 10:45AM
Teammates, coach and friends reflect on Wilt's record-breaking performance
Jan. 27 -- Kobe Bryant's 81-point effort, the second highest point total ever, was split six ways til Sunday by the media, quite literally. It aired nationally on League Pass. The halftime highlights were on NBA.com before the game was even over. You could watch a recap of every bucket in three minutes as you ate your breakfast burrito. And then, 24 hours later, you could buy the full 48 minutes on Google.
When Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points on March 2, 1962, the only fans able to catch the game were the 4,124 actually in attendance that day in the tiny city of Hershey, Pa. No film footage of Chamberlain leading the Philadelphia Warriors to a 169-147 triumph over the New York Knicks was shot. All we have left to remember the historic 100 is a box score, a scratchy recording of the radio play-by-play, newspaper stories and a famous photo, and perhaps most importantly, memories from those connected to the performance.
We spoke with Philadelphia Warriors teammate Paul Arizin, who helped revolutionize the sport by ushering in the jump shot era. The future 50 Greatest Players in NBA History honoree was competing in one of his last NBA games when Chamberlain scored 100, as he would retire from the league following the '61-62 season. We also talked with 6-9 Warriors reserve Joe Ruklick, who was in his third season in the NBA at the age of 23. Ruklick assisted on Chamberlain's final basket, and would later describe himself as "a walking footnote" with a laugh. Then there was Jim Heffernan, the only Philadelphia newspaper reporter to make the trip to Hershey for the game, and Cecil Mosenson, Chamberlain's high school coach who saw him break the 90-point barrier as a prep senior. Lastly we contacted longtime Philadelphia basketball fixture Sonny Hill, a boyhood friend of Chamberlain's and a friend of the Bryant family. Hill listened to the 100-point game on the radio that day.
Each of these men spoke separately to NBA.com but their message was ultimately one in the same: Wilt's feat was awesome, and Kobe's is impressive in its own way.
The Knicks' Tactics
Warriors teammate Paul Arizin: Obviously the Knicks did not want Wilt to score Wilt and the Knicks never got a long too well. Toward the end of the game -- I didn't play the last quarter, we had a big lead -- they were holding the ball. Even though they were behind 15 points most of the game, they were freezing the ball. So we were trying to foul them so we could get the ball (again). What they were trying to do was foul our guards when we got the ball back so we couldn't get the ball to Wilt.
Warriors teammate Joe Ruklick: New York says we fouled them. They fouled seven more times than there average and we fouled three times below our season average. So I think that speaks to what really happened.
Arizin: Wilt, if you notice, had a great game shooting fouls that day, hitting 28-of-32, which was not typical of his foul shooting anymore than that would be for Shaquille O'Neal today, which would be next to a miracle. (Chamberlain shot .511 from the stripe for his career.)
Chamberlain's Hot Streak
Arizin: Some days -- if you're not a player it's hard to understand this -- you're shots are just going in and some days they are not. And you don't know why, because you think you're doing things exactly the same. That day the fouls were going in for Wilt and he was making that fall-away jump shot, as they call it, pretty frequently.
Chamberlain Specifically Focused?
Arizin: Not at all. As I've told many, many people over the years, if you look back that year '61-62 which happened to be my last year -- he scored so many points so often in the 70s and 60s it was not unusual (Chamberlain averaged 50.4 ppg). And when I came out of the game at the end of the third quarter and was watching it in the fourth quarter, I had no idea how many points he had until the PA announcer started announcing his total. I would say that last quarter was the only time we really went out of our way to try to get the ball into Wilt anymore than we usually did.
Warriors Effort to Get Wilt the Rock
Wilt's 100th Point
Ruklick: I was in the right place at the right time (to assist on the basket). But the real story is a little more than that. His last shot some people say was a dunk. Well, I was there, 12 or 13 feet away from him. His last shot was a finger roll. He could have dunked it, but I think in his mind that would be hot-dogging it.
Arizin: Wilt was not much for dunking. Nobody dunked in those days, and secondly, Wilt thought he was a better ball player and able to do more than just dunk. Dunking was strictly just a product of being big and he did not want to be categorized as a ballplayer who was a great player simply because he was big.
How Did Wilt Score 100?
Ruklick: What he did was play his regular game. Since he had such a hard time getting open, many of his shots were turn jump shots. I don't remember him making any hook shots. Most of them were his traditional turn jump shots or finger rolls. It was such a mammoth feat of pure endurance and strength, fighting off guys. Wilt was in a battle. Doing something at the foul line that was remarkable.
The Knicks' Tactics, Part II
Ruklick: They were trying to foul everybody, and they fouled me with 46 seconds to go, after Wilt had his 100. And I went up to the foul line and the referee was standing next to me, and I yelled to Wilt, "Wilt, I'm dumping," meaning I was going to try to miss the foul shot, so Wilt could get to the rebound (to score another basket).
And Wilt took a step to me, I almost flooded my jock, and he was shaking his head. Then the referee, Willie Smith, handed me the ball and then (jokingly) laughed. New York got the rebound (Ruklick missed the free throw). I wanted to see Wilt get 102.
Wilt's Battles in the Paint
Ruklick: The Knicks in the second quarter and the second half were all over him. They had two guys on Wilt much of the time, and especially when we were trying to get the ball to him, three guys would sink. Wilt had a tough time fighting off players just to get open. It was a terrific performance in terms of athletic skill and sheer strength.
Boyhood friend Sonny Hill: He played in the era of two hand checks. So you could put two hands on one player. If you look at any picture of Wilt Chamberlain, you'll find three or four people in the picture. Earl Strom, the legendary referee, said to me more than once, "Sonny, there were two sets of rules when we refereed both games because if we called all the fouls against him, the game would never be over." No other player could ever be put in that category. The rules were different. He was greater than the game that he played in.
The Atmosphere in Hershey
Heffernan: If it had been in an NBA arena there'd be more than the 4,100 who were in Hershey, Pa. Towards the end the fans got into it. They were just fans from Central Pennsylvania who had not seen many NBA games. A young crowd. They were excited as were the young players on the Warriors team, who I think had a lot to do with it.
Ruklick: I remember the governor of the state of Pennsylvania, and when he was introduced just before the game he was booed. I always felt bad about that (laughs). The fans were not as rabid as they were in Philadelphia but they were enthusiastic. Some says thousands came onto the floor; No, only a couple of dozen came onto the floor after he scored his 100th point.
Did Wilt's Feat Surprise Anyone?
High school coach Cecil Mosenson: With Wilt's ability it was a less of a surprise. We knew he would break 100, we knew he could break more than 100 if he wanted to. He had that kind of ability in those days, when he was playing for those NBA teams.
Hill: I grew up playing with and against him. Those of us who grew up playing with and against him were never in awe of anything that he did just because he was that awesome. So when we saw him later, and he said, 'What do you guys think? I scored 100,' we said to him, 'That's all you scored?'
And it was 100 (which made it more special). If it had been 99 would we be talking about it as much? I don't know. But it ended up 100. (Earlier in his career) maybe somebody would say, "He's going to score 100 one day" but I don't know anybody really believed it, except maybe Cecil.
Chamberlain's Reaction to 100
Heffernan: He headed out (of the arena) real quick. He headed out by himself and (Knick) Willie Naulls. He had an apartment in New York. He was excited. He knew what he had done but I don't think it had sunk into him exactly. He gave a lot of praise to the rest of the players for getting him the ball. He recognized the incredible number of free throws he made. That might have been just as incredible as the 100 points.
He did say he didn't think anyone could score 100 points in a game.
Hill: That was not one of his favorite feats. I think that the fact that he was able to averaged 50 points for a season. The fact that he was able to average over 48 minutes a game. I think he was more enamored with the fact that he had 55 rebounds against the Boston Celtics and Bill Russell.
Mosenson: Wilt scored 93 points for me in 28 minutes in 1954. That was his senior year of high school. The dilemma that coaches have is when you're winning by a large margin and a player has an opportunity to break a record, is it the coach's responsibility to let them break the record or should the coach put them on the bench not to embarrass the opposing team? Before the game I conferred with my athletic director, who was the track coach, and he said, "If I have a kid running the 100 yard dash, and he can break a record even though he's 20 or 30 yards ahead of the other player, I don't tell him to slow down."
With that in mind, when I knew he had the opportunity to break the record I allowed him to do it.
How Does 100 Stack Up?
Heffernan: I recognized that this was something totally extraordinary and I didn't think it would ever be matched, and I still think that. It's tops in my career -- (or) for anybody who was there, even the fans, from the youngest to the oldest. It was the top achievement I'm sure I'll ever see. I've seen Ron Delany run the mile for Villanova. I was at the first USA-USSR Track Meet, was a part of 25 Super Bowls. My first one was Super Bowl III with Joe Namath. That was a great achievement by the Jets, and sort of solidified the AFL and was history making.
Reactions to Kobe's 81
Hill: In this era of basketball, I never would have thought any player would get anywhere near 81 points because the game is so different from the era when Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and players of that ilk, who put up big numbers, were playing. The game is more controlled by the coaches. The clock is used a lot more now, and players cant score, and teams can't score. If you look at the average score of the NBA this year, I would think it's no more than 94 to 95 points per game. If you look at it from that point of view and proper perspective which a lot of people have not -- 81 points is an incredible, incredible number.
Mosenson: I think that players (today) are such spectacular players. I'm surprised that a guard could do it that there wasn't enough of an opposition to be able to stop a guard. I'm less surprised that a center could do it. I see Allen Iverson everyday scoring 40 points, and I think that's spectacular. To double that and score 81 points is an outstanding accomplishment.
Arizin: Eighty-one points is a lot of points (but) I don't see why not. What does the era have to do with the points? In order to score a lot of points by now, you have to be having a good day. Fifty, 60, 100 years ago or today, you could be having a good day, and that's when you're going to score a lot of points.
Ruklick: Kobe's like an artist who is ascending to his peak. He's a brilliant, brilliant player. He's got extremely high intelligence.
Heffernan: I think it's a phenomenal achievement. He's a great, great offensive ball player. The thing Kobe has going for him is that he's in control of the ball, as opposed to Wilt.
Comparing the Performances
Ruklick: If we were in the Court of Basketball Law, the judge would throw out the question.You can't compare. It doesn't go to the issue. Bryant is brilliant in his way, and Wilt couldn't what Bryant did and Bryant couldn't do what Wilt did.
Mosenson: I think it's a tremendous feat with a guard being able to score 81 points as opposed to a center that was dominating the game, and dominating the ball and dominating rebounds. He's a spectacular player. I think it's a credit to him and a marvel to the ability that he has.
Criticisms of Bryant and Chamberlain
Hill: I've heard some people say, "Well, he (Bryant) got 46 shots." Do you know how good you have to be to be able to get 46 shots? In the whole NBA, there are probably not five players who could get 46 shots if you told them to take that many. For those people who are throwing stones and making accusations, it is a skill to be able to get that many shots.
(With Wilt), if you want to say, well there weren't that many tall people in that era, how about this: there's five centers that are Hall-of-Famers that he played against. Nate Thurmond, one of the premier defensive players of all time. We all know the name Bill Russell. Walt Bellamy, who scored over 20,000 points and had over 14,000 rebounds. Bob Lanier. And at the end of his career, Wilt played against Lew Alcindor. I hear this garbage all of the time, "Well, he didn't really play against anybody."