Wilt Chamberlain

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Wilt Chamberlain

There have been many greats to play the game basketball, but we have never, and
maybe never again, see the likes of Wilt Chamberlain. His entire life Wilt
Chamberlain made the improbable look routine. No professional athlete in any
team sport combined the size, strength, and fluidity of movement that Wilt
Chamberlain brought into the sleepy, dimly lit NBA arenas of 1959. Ill go one
step further: No one who has played pro team sports has ever dominated every
minute of every game in the early 60s. His size and strength were sources of
wonder not only to paying spectators, but also to his fellow players. Wilt
played in the NBA for 14 seasons, from 59-60 through 72-73, and he helped
the NBA from league of moderate local interest to a major TV attraction.
Unfortunately, especially for younger fans, most of the TV tributes following
his death showed the Wilt of the early 70s. Sure, his Lakers teams were
great-the 71-72 team won pro sports record 33 games in a row. But Wilt by then
was a much different player than he had been in his younger days. I myself have
not seen the "real" Chamberlain play a number of times, but when I
did, it was amazing. Through most of the 60s, Chamberlain played with
strength, speed, and dexterity. His footwork was quick enough to fake out
defenders, and he had enough touch to make his finger rolls and fadeaways
virtually unstoppable. Of course, no one could repel his moves to the hoop, and
even when he was technically boxed out under the boards, he would get his share
of reach-in rebounds over the heads of shorter opponents. But in November 1969,
he had surgery after tearing a knee ligament. Through diligent rehabilitation,
he was able to return to the Lakers at the end of the regular season, and play a
full playoff schedule. "But Wilts style was different after the injury:
more mechanical, flat-footed, clearly not as fluid, less certain of his
ball-handling skills" (Sports Illustrated). It is this Chamberlain whom we
see on most of surviving film or videotape. A great player, still, but a much
different one-certainly less dominating than the man who terrorized the league
in the 60s. Michael Jordan scored 50 or more points in 30 regular-season games
in his career. Wilt Chamberlain scored 50 or more points in 45 games during the
61-62 season. Twenty-six years after he played his last NBA game, Wilt still
holds the leagues all-time single-season records for average points, rebounds,
and field goal percentage. Wilts second-best season in each of those
categories is better than any other players best through all of NBA history.
Some day, perhaps, everyone will be talking about a player who is the Next
Jordan, or the Next Magic, and maybe even the Next Russell. But I do not expect
we will ever see anyone that we will call the Next Wilt.

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