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A God Amongst Men and His Night of a Century

Spring 2010
Mural of Wilt Chamberlain
Kevin Burkett
Native son Wilt Chamberlain is the subject of this mural on a wall on 13th Street in Philadelphia.

Storming down the court in only 12 strides, the seven-foot Wilt Chamberlain was on the verge of greatness with his Philadelphia Warriors with just over a minute remaining. The atmosphere in Hershey that night in 1962 was tense; all in attendance were on their feet, waiting to see what would happen next. Chamberlain’s teammate threw him a court-length pass, knowing history was near. Towering over his opponents, Chamberlain shot and missed. A teammate secured the ball, and passed to Chamberlain. Another shot, another miss. Sounds of displeasure came from the crowd. Again, the Warriors controlled the ball and made sure to find Chamberlain. With 50 seconds left, a teammate threw a pass in Chamberlain’s direction. Using his athleticism, Chamberlain pulled the ball out of the air and slammed it through the hoop. Excitement overtook the crowd, the team, and the whole arena. With that basket, Wilt Chamberlain brought his point total to 100, etching his name into basketball immortality.

Standing 7’1” tall and weighing 275 lbs., Wilton N. Chamberlain was born to play basketball. He was an exceptional athlete who possessed a myriad of skills: strength, agility, stamina, and speed. His heart and determination were ever noticeable, as Chamberlain himself stated, “I like to win and I’ll do anything I can, take advantage of every opportunity I get, to beat you.” Over the course of his career, Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain would achieve things that no other basketball player has achieved or may ever achieve again. In college, he led the University of Kansas basketball team to the National Championship. From there, he went on to be a two-time National Basketball Association Champion, NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, four-time NBA MVP, seven-time All-NBA First Team selection, Rookie-of-the-Year, and named one of the 50 Greatest Players by the NBA. Following his successful career, Chamberlain received his greatest honor: induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Even his opponents recognized his skill. Fellow Hall-of-Famer Oscar Robertson lauded Chamberlain as a great player saying, “The books don’t lie.”

On March 2, 1962, Chamberlain’s Philadelphia Warriors were set to play the New York Knicks in Hershey, Dauphin County at Hersheypark Arena. The game itself was expected to be an average showing. Warriors’ player York Larese remembered, “The biggest thrill in my life was to see that. There was nothing exciting about the Knicks playing the Warriors in Hershey. Chocolate was more exciting.” Most fans were there to see an exhibition basketball game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Colts. The NBA match-up was simply an afterthought. Even for some players, playing in Hershey meant little. Warriors’ player Tom Meschery said on playing in Hershey, “I was just dreaming to leave the place as fast as I could.” Little did anybody know that this calm town built around chocolate could produce such an exciting night.

Aerial View of Hershey Arena
Eric Beato
Hershey Arena was the site of an historical night of scoring in 1962.

Upon tipoff, the first quarter was rather slow and uneventful. Chamberlain scored the first points of the game on a slam dunk, but most of the eventual crowd of 4,124 fans had not yet even arrived. As the quarter progressed, Chamberlain’s teammate, and talented point guard, Guy Rodgers continually set Chamberlain up underneath the hoop. Chamberlain started strong, making his first five shots of the night, finishing the quarter with 23 points. In an odd turn of events, Knicks center Darrall Imhoff grew frustrated of consistently getting called for fouls against Chamberlain. Caught up in emotion, Imhoff shouted, “Well, why don’t you just give the guy a hundred now and we’ll all go home!”

Once the second quarter started, Knicks head coach Eddie Donovan was forced to turn to the rookie Cleveland Buckner to guard Chamberlain due to Imhoff’s foul trouble. Buckner was not considered a defender, but purely a scorer. On seemingly every Philadelphia possession, Chamberlain would set up to the left of the basket, receive the ball, and proceed to storm around Buckner and his fellow defenders. Journalist Gary Pomerantz noted, “Teams couldn’t compete with Chamberlain athletically so they tried to do it physically or psychologically.” This was evident in the second quarter, as Chamberlain was often hit in the mouth, ribs, hips, and even the crotch. In response, Chamberlain turned to a fade-away shot. Not only did this help in protecting him, but it reduced his time shooting free throws—a weakness in his game. By the end of the second quarter, Chamberlain had scored an impressive 41 points, and surprisingly only missed one of his 14 foul shots.

Following the halftime break, both teams came out for the third quarter possessing fresh determination. For the Warriors, they wanted to continue their success, while the Knicks aimed to slow Chamberlain. Both teams were strong offensively, as 84 points were scored in the quarter. The pace was fast on both sides, yet Chamberlain remained in control. Chamberlain used his size to secure rebounds, pass them off to teammates who, in turn, would set him up to score. The method worked, as Chamberlain scored 29 points in the quarter. Perhaps, what stands out most was that Chamberlain managed to make all eight free throws he attempted this quarter, an impressive mark for any player, but especially the poor foul-shooting Chamberlain. By the end of the third quarter, Chamberlain had scored 69 points. He was not showing any signs of slowing down; he was on a mission.

By the start of the fourth quarter, fans and players both knew they were a part of something big. Excitement began to build in the air as fans moved closer and closer to the court to gain a better view. With ten minutes left in the quarter, the Warriors changed their philosophy. Instead of the team collectively scoring to win, it became getting the ball to Chamberlain, so he could make history. Even the fans got behind the idea, with many cheering “Give it to Wilt!” Teammates became spectators as they watched Chamberlain transition from basketball star to basketball legend. As the quarter progressed, the Warriors played noticeably worse defensively. This was not due to lack of skill or effort, but to the desire to get the ball to Chamberlain. With less than nine minutes left in the game, Wilt Chamberlain had scored 75 impressive points. The number on everyone’s mind now was 100.

Wilt Chamberlain's box score
Marlon E
By the end of the evening, Chamberlain would amass a stat line that no one has ever rivaled.

If it had been any other night, it would have been absurd to believe any player could score 25 points in less than nine minutes. This, however, was not any other night. More importantly, it was not just any player, it was Wilt Chamberlain. Within a few minutes, Chamberlain moved his total to 79, breaking his own previous record. Even though he was in the record book yet again, the target was still 100. Journalist Gary Pomerantz shares, “He wanted one hundred. It was only a number, of course, but there was much in it: proof of his own outsized greatness, satisfaction for his ego, and a prophecy fulfilled.” Chamberlain continued to move towards his goal; with less than seven minutes to go, his total was 84.

These final minutes proved the greatest test for Chamberlain and his Warrior teammates. The Knicks would purposely foul Chamberlain’s teammates, just to keep the ball out of his hands. While this kept the ball out of his hands for a few moments, it could not stop him. Chamberlain continued to rack up the points. He consistently scored at will, blowing past two, three, and even four defenders at a time. This became obvious to his teammates. Even when they had a chance for an open shot, they would pass to Chamberlain so he would move closer to 100. With one minute and twenty-five seconds left, Wilt Chamberlain’s point total stood at 98.

The ball went back and forth before the Warriors gained possession with 50 seconds left to play. Upon regaining possession, a teammate threw a court-length pass to Chamberlain in hopes his next shot would be the one. Chamberlain received the pass, shot, and missed. His teammates, employing the same determination Chamberlain had, fought for the rebound and put the ball in Chamberlain’s hands. Again, Chamberlain shot the ball, with everyone anxiously hoping this basket would be the one. Once again, Chamberlain missed, and, once again, his teammates fought for the ball. The game only had less than a minute to play when Joe Ruklick grabbed the ball for the Warriors. He passed the ball perfectly to Chamberlain, who pulled it out of the air and slammed it through the hoop. History was made. Wilt Chamberlain had scored his hundredth point of the game.

With that score, the crowd and Chamberlain’s teammates erupted: Wilt Chamberlain had done something no basketball player had even come close to doing. Amazement and awe spread throughout Hersheypark Arena that night. While fans and his teammates were amazed, even his opponents had to recognize his achievement. Knicks center Darrall Imhoff reflected, “It was the hardest I ever saw Wilt work.” Warriors coach Frank McGuire went on to say, “I always thought it was inevitable that he would do it. But when he did, I stopped and thought about it. I couldn’t believe it. One hundred points. Teams don’t score a hundred for games at a time. And he did it. One man.”

Sign Outside Hershey Arena commemorating the night of 100 points
Eric Beato
Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points in one night is commemorated in many places, including on this sign outside of Hershey Arena. It bears the famous picture of Chamberlain with the figure "100" written by hand.

On that night, Chamberlain had a lot working in his favor. Knicks starting center Phil Jordon was unable to play in the game, forcing the less reliable Imhoff to guard Chamberlain. The rims at Hersheypark Arena were old and worn, shaking to help free throws make it in. Most importantly, Chamberlain had a team who supported his chance at history and wanted to be a part of it. Chamberlain recognized this, and celebrated the achievement as a team, not an individual. Warriors’ Guy Rodgers praised Chamberlain for the way he handled the event. “The thing that was so great about it was that Wilt shared it as though it was our achievement. He was really gracious with it,” said Rodgers.

While Chamberlain’s display was impressive on that night, it has left a resonating mark on the game of basketball. The NBA widened the free throw lane to keep Chamberlain further away from the basket. In addition, the NBA made a rule that a player’s feet may never cross the free throw line—a response to Chamberlain jumping closer to the basket during free throws. These changes, however, failed to slow Chamberlain, as he finished his career with over 31,000 points scored.

While rules were affected, Wilt Chamberlain left a historic mark on future players of the game. NBA star Allen Iverson said, “When you talk about the greatest players that ever played the game, nobody has done the things he’s done.” Hall-of-Famer Jerry West shared, “I feel confident to say that 100 points is a record that will not be broken. Whole teams today don’t even score 100 points.” West is right in sharing that the record may not be broken. Several players looking up to Chamberlain’s historic mark have attempted to beat it, but have not. The closest performance to Chamberlain’s was Los Angeles Lakers’ star Kobe Bryant’s 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. While it was an impressive mark, Bryant was still 19 points away from Chamberlain’s historic mark.

Some sports records may never be broken. Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak, Wayne Gretzky’s final goal count, just to name a few. In that class of remarkable accomplishments stands Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game. Nobody expected much from a basketball game on that cold and dreary night in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Fans just wanted simple entertainment, players just wanted to escape the strong chocolate aroma. Little did anybody know that they would experience the sweetest treat they could imagine that night: a legendary performance by a legendary player.


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