A Tribute to Wilt Chamberlain
Posted Oct 24 2001 3:14PM
The Biggest and Brightest Star
It was a frigid December night in Philadelphia, the year 1961, when an exhausted Elgin Baylor walked through the locker room doors after scoring a whopping 63 points in a triple overtime battle with the Philadelphia Warriors.
In the same game, Lakers guard Jerry West recorded a triple-double, notching 32 points, 11 rebounds and ten assists.
Yet, the evening's spotlight fell upon something much larger, figuratively and literally.
"Well Elgin," exclaimed legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn. "He broke your record, but he had three overtimes to do it."
Elgin turned to Chick and replied, "It doesn't really matter, someday that guy is going to score 100 points."
On March 13, 1962, the inevitable happened. Chamberlain turned in the most dominant performance the NBA had ever seen, and most likely will fail to see ever again. Chamberlain tallied 100 points, shooting 36-63 from the field, and a remarkable, 28-32 from the free throw line, considering he was a 51% career free throw shooter.
At the time of this overwhelming achievement, West, Baylor and company were on the verge of winning several NBA championships, yet continued to be road blocked by the Boston Celtics.
From 1962-1968, the Lakers would lose to these Celtics five times in the Finals. How could the Lakers get over the hump?
How about adding the NBA's all-time rebounding leader to compliment West and Baylor?
On July 9, 1968, the franchise traded for Chamberlain.
West and the rest of the team relished the idea of having the big fellow in an identical uniform.
"Wilt brought so much excitement," exclaimed West. "We thought we finally had a chance to win the championship."
Three years later, the addition of Chamberlain paid grand dividends, as the Lakers won the coveted NBA title.
This season the Lakers are sporting new Nike designed uniforms featuring tighter collars and a stripe on the side of the jerseys. One other change is also very noticeable this year. There is a jet black, two-inch wide black patch on the shoulder of every Lakers jersey. The patch is being worn in remembrance of Wilt.
Earlier this year, the Lakers, as well has the entire sports world, lost one of the truly great icons in sports.
On October 12, 1999, Wilt was stricken down by complications of the heart, one opponent he could not conquer. The black patch on the shoulders of the Lakers players is not there to remind us of Chamberlain's unparalleled accomplishments on the court, but rather to remind us of the person living within that 7-1, 300 pound superhuman body.
Baylor's record was shattered not merely by a man, but perhaps by an almost mythical figure. Wilt Chamberlain was a huge, physically intimidating player, something the NBA and it's fans had never really seen before.
"Back then, everybody thought the guy was some sort of freak," said Hearn. "Nowadays, almost every team in the league has three seven-footers."
Jerry West, Executive Vice President for Basketball Operation for the team could only describes him as, a softie.
"He was just a big pussycat," said West. "He had a real soft spot in his heart, and didn't want people to know that about him."
"He also loved trivia. He would approach people with little tidbits of information, and they'd say, 'That can't be right!'"
"He'd love to prove them wrong, or at least pretend he was right."
Hearn also described him as cordial. "If I said something nice about him on the air, he would always thank me," exclaimed Hearn. " If I mentioned about how he had blown a lay-up, he would be the first to tell me what I said was fair."
Chamberlain's importance to the Lakers organization cannot be summed up in words. His mere presence alone brought the media to the Great Western Forum in masses. "We had always had the media around, but when Wilt arrived they came out in absolute droves, something we had never seen before," said West.
The confidence he exuded lifted his team to new heights, and ultimately brought a championship to the city of Los Angeles in 1972.
His hardwood accomplishments earned him the nickname, "The Big Dipper."
"You had to be close to him to find out what a kind-hearted guy he was," added Hearn. "Marge and I had that privilege."
With a humbled look on his face, West summed up his memories of his fallen teammate with one brief sentence, "It was a pleasure and a distinct honor to play with Wilt Chamberlain."
On a clear, cold, December night, look upward and you will see a constellation bigger and brighter that any other. It would be the Big Dipper, the largest and most easily recognizable formation of the stars, standing out among all others in the sky. Although unaware of it at that time, Wilt Chamberlain's teammates could not have chosen for him a more appropriate nickname.