Fifty years ago in Hershey, Pa., Wilt Chamberlain turned in one of the most stunning performances in sports history.
In this March 2, 1962 file photo, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors holds a sign reading "100" in the dressing room in Hershey, Pa., after he scored 100 points, as the Warriors defeated the New York Knickerbockers 169-147.
Al Attles sat on a wooden bench in a tiny locker room in Hershey, Pa., exactly 50 years ago Friday in stunned amazement. The historical significance of what he had just witnessed would come later. He just tried to soak it all in.
He remembers the mood in the room was surprisingly low-key. Joyous, sure, but not the jubilant celebration one might expect given the circumstances. Teammate Wilt Chamberlain had scored 100 points to lead the Philadelphia Warriors to a 169-147 victory against the New York Knickerbockers.
One hundred points! A monumental accomplishment even for a larger-than-life figure.
Attles, a second-year player, looked over at Chamberlain afterward and noticed sweat still pouring off his body like a river. Chamberlain had a conflicted look on his face as he studied the stat sheet.
"He said, 'I never thought I'd take 60 shots in a game [actually 63],'" Attles said. "Me in my infinite wisdom said, 'Yeah, but you made 36 of them.' We tried to make it light at that point because he was really down."
Imagine the mood in the Knicks locker room. Some of them were livid about the way the whole thing happened on the court.
"I know some guys were ticked off," forward Dave Budd said. "But I wasn't really ticked off. Listen, the fact that we did everything we could just added to the legitimacy of the feat."
That feat still stands as an NBA record 50 years later, a performance that's become almost mythical because there were no TV cameras to capture it. It was played at the end of a season in an arena built for ice hockey with official attendance counted at 4,124.
Attles still receives notes, cards and comments from random fans who claim to have watched that game in the flesh.
"If the same people who say they were at the game were at the game, they were disguised as empty seats," he said, "because there were a lot of empty seats in that arena that night."
The only tangible visual evidence from that night, March 2, 1962, is a photo of Chamberlain holding a piece of paper with "100" scribbled on it. Sadly, there are no "SportsCenter" highlights, YouTube clips or Twitter retweets to help us relive it. Only memories passed down through generations by those involved.
"It's one of those memories that you keep forever," Attles said.
Good feeling from the start
Hershey was the site of the Warriors training camp and the occasional home game. Chamberlain, according to Attles, arrived early from New York City and decided to kill time before the game in a penny arcade. He later told Attles that he had dominated a certain game he was playing, as if that was an omen of some kind.
"Maybe he should have gone to the penny arcade every night," Attles joked.
Chamberlain was a towering presence at 7-1, regarded by many as the most imposing player in basketball history. He averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game that season and once grabbed 55 rebounds in a game.
Dominating performances were the norm, so when Chamberlain scored 23 points in the first quarter, nothing seemed unusual. Except that he made all nine of his free-throw attempts, which truly was an omen, considering he was a career 51 percent shooter from the line.
"We came back to the bench and [Knicks guard Richie] Guerin jokingly says, 'The big guy is going for 100 tonight,'" Budd said. "We'd seen Wilt do a lot of things, but not 100."
The points kept coming -- 18 in the second quarter and 28 in the third, giving him 69. By then, everyone knew something special was brewing. Public address announcer Dave Zinkoff began calling out Chamberlain's point total after each basket or free throw.
"He had a distinctive voice and would go, 'And that's 80,'" Attles said. "Now we're hearing it. But Wilt was a scoring machine so you weren't paying a lot attention to it out on the floor. You just knew he was scoring. Then the fans got involved. They started calling out, too. All of a sudden, the light goes on. 'This guy is getting close.' Now the Knicks get involved because they're figuring, 'What can we do to stop this onslaught?'"
The Knicks tried everything. They played without starting center Phil Jordon, who was sick. In his absence, they rotated players on Chamberlain. Darrall Imhoff, a 6-10 center who was respected for his defense, drew the primary assignment, but he picked up three fouls in the first 10 minutes and played only 20 minutes total.
"As I was going to the bench, I turned to the official who had just called me for that third blocking foul and said, 'Why don't you give him 100 points and we'll all go home?'" Imhoff recalled.
Budd knew Chamberlain loved to post up on the left side so he tried to beat him downcourt to that spot and force him away from the basket. He also played in front of Chamberlain a few times.
"But there wasn't a heck of a lot you could do with a guy like that," Budd said.
Chamberlain's pursuit of 100 eventually turned the game into a sideshow. The Warriors force-fed him the ball and tried to maximize their number of offensive possessions. That didn't sit well with the Knicks, particularly Guerin, and it still doesn't, 50 years later.
"It was a frustrating game for myself and my team because I personally have felt the game was played differently than most games are played," Guerin said. "By that I mean, I think the Philadelphia team made their mind up at halftime that they were going to do everything in their power the second half to try and get Wilt to score 100 points. As a result, they deliberately fouled us whether we got the ball in the backcourt or frontcourt, not even in shooting position, to regain the ball and have more possessions for their offense. ...
"It's not to take anything away from Wilt. As I explained to Wilt later, I just thought that's not what professional sports are about. If it happens in a normal course of a game, terrific. Or if there are a few minutes left in a game and you want to try and get a guy a record, terrific. But not the whole second half of a game."
Chamberlain scored 31 points in the final quarter and hit the magical 100 with a basket in the final minute. Incredibly, he made 28 of 32 free throws.
Attles, the Warriors' second-leading scorer with 17 points, remembers two details in particular beyond Chamberlain's point total: The Warriors won and Wilt at one point tried to take himself out of the game, only to be overruled by coach Frank McGuire.
"Once it looked like we had the game won, he asked to come out," Attles said. "But Frank McGuire acted like he couldn't hear him."
Guerin, a fiery guard and ex-Marine, led the Knicks with 39 points. "I got nipped by 61," he joked.
The teams combined for 316 points, which was the highest-scoring game in NBA history at the time.
"We scored 147," Budd said, "and lost by 20."
'Record will never be broken'
Attles recalled that Chamberlain rode back to New York City after the game with Knicks players Willie Naulls and Johnny Green. Legend has it, Wilt pretended to sleep in the backseat as the two Knicks lamented their passenger scoring 100 on them and joked that they should drop him off on the side of the road and make him walk.
The teams played again two days later in New York at Madison Square Garden. Imhoff sensed that Chamberlain wanted to score 100 again.
"I fouled out with two minutes to go and got a standing ovation because I had held him to 58," Imhoff said.
Chamberlain died in October 1999. He told the Star Tribune before the 25th anniversary of his historic performance that he didn't understand the hoopla over one game.
"That game had no real important consequences," he said. "What they should be raving about is that 50-point average."
Even Guerin agrees with that point.
"The most amazing thing, in my opinion, that year was he averaged 50 points a game," he said. "I mean, 100 points was great. That might happen again. A game goes into overtime, double overtime, triple overtime on a sensational shooting night, maybe somebody might approach that. But I don't think anybody is going to approach averaging 50 points per game."
Others believe Chamberlain's record will stand forever for various reasons, not the least of which is the absolute physical domination required to score that many points. Plus, teams use different schemes to limit a hot scorer, and most coaches likely would be reluctant to put a player in that position, particularly if a game is in hand.
"That record will never be broken, even with the three-point shot," Budd said. "First of all, you don't have anyone who is as dominant as Wilt. Wilt was arguably and still is the most dominant person in any sport."
Kobe Bryant scored 81 points for the Lakers against Toronto in 2006. That's as close as anyone has come to matching a Herculean feat accomplished 50 years ago in a small arena with no cameras rolling and only 4,000 lucky souls there to witness it.
"The stars were aligned that night," Attles said. "He did everything he possibly could, with the key being the free throws that he made. They fouled him and he made the free throws so what do you do now? There's a four-letter word: pray. You pray at that point."
|Baltimore - WP: T. Wilson||10||FINAL|
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