His career was a tour de force!
He was born Wilton Norman Chamberlain on August 21, 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Biography reports. Widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players to ever live, like many celebrities, Chamberlain is as big a myth as he was a man.
Attending Overbrook High School in Philly, he got his start on the varsity team and scored more than 2,000 points! Clocking in at 6’11”, he physically and mentally dominated other teen players on the court, with many of his nicknames coming from his overpowering stature. Names like “The Big Dipper” sit well with Chamberlain, but there were others he hated like “Wilt the Stilt,” a name given to him by a local reporter covering high school games. At his full height, Chamberlain reached a whopping 7’1” tall, and he was recruited heavily by several top colleges.
In 1956, he made his college basketball debut, playing for the University of Kansas, subsequently leading the team to the NCAA finals in 1957. While the team lost that game, Chamberlain was named “Most Outstanding Player” of the tournament, making the all-American and all-conference teams the next season. He had a gap year between college and the NBA due to their official rules but in 1959, he played his first official league game for the Philadelphia Warriors. In that first game, he scored 43 points, finishing the season off with an impressive start. He was named the NBA Rookie of the Year and the NBA’s Most Valuable Player that year.
Over the course of his career, Chamberlain made a number of impressive accomplishments. In March of 1962, he made history as the first NBA player to score 100 points in a game. He also became the first NBA player to earn more than 4,000 points, scoring an average of 50.4 points per game. He became the first player to score more than 30,000 cumulative points over his career and stayed with the Warriors during their move to San Francisco before joining the 76ers in 1965 and eventually the Lakers, who he led to a 1972 NBA championship.
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Chamberlain retired in 1973 and held the record for the most NBA points-per-game record in the league before Michael Jordan broke it in 1998. He still remains notable for never fouling out of an NBA game and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. On October 12, 1999, Chamberlain passed away from heart failure.
While there is a lot known about the Goliath-like athlete, as outlined in his books and interviews, there still may be some things that you never learned. Below is a list of 4 things you may have never learned about Wilt Chamberlain:
He was great at multiple sports.
After he retired, Chamberlain took an interest in volleyball, Mental Floss reports. He played so much he eventually became a board member of the International Volleyball Association, a pro-coed volleyball league. Chamberlain played for the Seattle Smashers’ front line and won MVP of the league’s IVA All-Star game, which was televised. He was also inducted into the volleyball Hall of Fame.
He played for the Harlem Globetrotters.
Chamberlain decided to go pro his junior year at Kansas after a loss during the NCAA finals. Still, NBA rules prohibited players who hadn’t finished college from joining. In the interim, Chamberlain signed up with the Harlem Globetrotters, inking a deal that earned him more than what NBA players were making at the time.
He almost boxed against Muhammad Ali.
In 1965, Chamberlain received an offer to box heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, but Philadelphia 76ers owner Ike Richman talked him out of it. He was approached again, signing a contract to fight Ali at the Houston Astrodome on July 26, 1971, if Ali beat Joe Frazier that March. However, Ali lost the fight, earning his first professional loss and Chamberlain was able to back out of the fight at the last minute.
He was the owner of a famous nightclub.
According to Harlem World, Small’s Paradise was a popular nightclub during the Harlem Renaissance. Owned by Ed Smalls, the club was a part of the Chitlin Circuit and located at 2294 ½ Seventh Avenue at 135th Street. A frequent hangout for celebrities, the club was one of few to be Black-owned and integrated, staying open all night and featuring waiters on roller skates, a breakfast dance, and an entire floor show. In 1955, Smalls sold the club, but it changed owners again when Chamberlain purchased it, renaming it Big Wilt’s Smalls Paradise. The club closed for good in 1986.
Rest in peace Wilt!
4 things you never knew about the greatest basketball player to ever live. Photo Courtesy of Heritage Auctions.