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Wilt Chamberlain averaged almost 26 rebounds a game in 1961-62.
Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

In '61-62, Chamberlain's numbers were otherwordly

By Fran Blinebury,
Posted Dec 26 2011 10:54AM

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Somebody once said there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Then there was Wilt Chamberlain.

His statistics made the record books look like one big lie. Or at least the kind of weird fiction that usually leaps off the pages of a Stephen King novel:

• Scoring 100 points in a single game.

• Averaging 50.4 points for an entire season.

• Averaging 22.9 rebounds for his entire career.

When the topic of all-time greatest player was once raised, none other than the legendary Larry Bird didn't hesitate.

"Open up the record book and it will be obvious who the greatest is," he said.

When he retired in 1973 after 14 NBA seasons, Chamberlain owned 128 league records. Today, nearly four decades later, he still holds 71.

"All this time afterward and I'm still coming up with different lists about Wilt," said Harvey Pollack, the Hall of Fame Philadelphia statistician, who began with the NBA in 1946 and is the only original employee of the league still working. "Wilt kept me on my toes and scrambling -- more than any other player ever -- to come up with different numbers in different categories to describe him."

The numbers are really the only way to try.

After all, there have been so many big men before and after Wilt, but none who changed basketball, bent understanding and dog-eared the record book beyond all recognition. How can we comprehend?

• Consider that after Wilt's 50.4 mark for the 1961-62 season, the second-highest scoring averaged in NBA history by a player not named Chamberlain was Elgin Baylor's 38.3 in the same year. That makes Wilt's number 31.6 percent higher than Jordan.

On March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain set an NBA record with 100 points against the New York Knicks.
Associated Press

• The highest batting average for a season in Major League Baseball over the past 70 years was Tony Gwynn's .394 in 1994. To exceed Gwynn by 31.6 percent, a batter would have to hit .518.

• The all-time single season rushing record in the NFL is 2,105 yards by Eric Dickerson in 1984. To exceed Dickerson by 31.6 percent a runner would have to gain 2,770 yards.

• The NHL single-season record for goals is 92 by Wayne Gretzky in 1981-82. To exceed Gretzky by Chamberlain's pace, a skater would have to pump in 121 goals.

The truth is, in American sports, only Babe Ruth transcended and transformed his sport like Chamberlain.

Wilt had already led the league in scoring in his first two NBA seasons, with averages of 37.6 and 38.4, when Frank McGuire took over as head coach of the Philadelphia Warriors and told Chamberlain he wanted him to score even more.

"I told coach McGuire I didn't think we could beat Boston," Wilt said in his 1973 autobiography. "I thought they just had too many good players. But I said I'd try my damnedest to do things his way.

"'OK,'" he said. "I've been through all the scouting reports and you're right. We aren't as good as Boston -- not with you scoring 37, 38 points a game like you did your first two years. We can't get enough scoring out of the rest of our guys to equal them. But if you can score 50, I think the rest of the guys can make up the difference to get us even with Boston.'

"Fifty?" I yelped. "Impossible."

"But Coach McGuire said he knew I could do it -- and he said I had to do it if we wanted a shot at the championship.

"I told him I thought the other players might be unhappy about that.

"'No, they won't,' he said. 'They're pros. They want to win and they know you're their meal ticket.' "

The meal ticket then went out and rang up 48 points with 25 rebounds and 57 with 32 in the first two games of the 1961-62 season against the Lakers.

Chamberlain scored 50 or more points 45 times in the 80-game season. He scored 60 or more in 14 games.

At home on Dec. 8, his numbers were a staggering 78 points and 43 rebounds against the Lakers, breaking the single-game scoring record then held by Elgin Baylor (71).

In a home game against the Chicago Packers on Jan. 13, he put up 73 points and 36 rebounds against Rookie of the Year and eventual Hall of Famer Walt Bellamy.

Then on March 2 at Hershey, Pa., Wilt blew the lid off everyone's expectations and imagination when he hit the century mark against the Knicks. He shot 36-for-63 from the field and 28-for-32 from the foul line.

For years, people would ask Chamberlain if scoring 100 was his biggest thrill in sports.

"Frankly," he said, "it wasn't even close to the top."

Pollack nominates the night of Feb. 2, 1968 as the single best game of Wilt's career. He scored 25 points, grabbed 22 rebounds and dealt out 21 assists for the only double triple-double in NBA history.

That came during the 1967-68 season when Chamberlain led the league in assists (8.6 per game), making him the only player in history to top the league in scoring, rebounding and assists over the course of a season.

"Where else would you go? Who else would you ever think of to even imagine doing that, today or any other time?" asked his Warriors teammate Al Attles.

The 1961-62 season of giants is when Oscar Robertson averaged the only triple-double over the full schedule in league history -- 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists. The Big O set the record for triple-doubles in a single-season with 41 that year. Chamberlain ranks second with 31 triple-doubles in 1967-68.

The NBA record for consecutive triple-doubles is nine, set by Wilt March 8-20, 1968. The NBA record for consecutive double-doubles is held by Wilt at 227. He also holds the second and third longest streaks at 220 and 133.

The official league statistics only recognize four quadruple-doubles in history -- Nate Thurmond, Alvin Robertson, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson. But the league didn't begin keeping blocked shots as an official statistics until 1973-74, the season after Chamberlain retired. He regularly blocked more than 10 shots in a game.

Wilt scored 50 or more points seven times against Bill Russell, generally regarded as the greatest defensive player of all-time, including a high of 62 in a game the Warriors still lost to Boston.

If there was one record that was Chamberlain's favorite it was pulling down 55 rebounds on Nov. 24, 1960.

"In 1997, when the NBA announced the results of its 50 Greatest Players voting, I was sitting in a hotel room in New York with Wilt, Russell, George Mikan and Julius Erving," recalled Pollack. "They were swapping old stories, reliving great moments and giving each other the business in a good-natured way.

"Russell was laughing with that cackle of his and telling a lot of funny stories on Wilt, who was kind of the butt of the jokes. Finally, I piped up and said, 'Can I ask a question?' When they said, OK, I asked, 'Hey Wilt, who was that guy you were playing against on the night you got the 55 rebounds?'

"Wilt's eyes lit up. He got out of his chair, walked across the room and he pointed -- 'It was you William Felton Russell!' And they all roared laughing. Of all the stats I ever kept on Wilt that was the one that made him the proudest."

The incredible, eye-popping and sometimes hard-to-believe statistics practically run off the pages of the record books. Can sheer points totals and averages and percentages ever define a man, even if they come in the volume and force of a tsunami?

"Wilt didn't spent all those years setting records in the same sport as the rest of us," said Attles. "He was playing a game that was then and still is completely different than everybody else. The numbers don't lie."

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

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