Think of it: 100 points. Philadelphia Warriors coach Frank McGuire once said, "Think of how hard it would be to do it 48 minutes if you were alone by yourself in a gym." But Wilt Chamberlain was just not any player. In the NBA's early days, he dominated his sport as few athletes ever did. At 7-1, 275 pounds, he swept up the court in elongated, 8-foot strides.
He was so overpowering that when author Gary M. Pomerantz interviewed his contemporaries for his splendid book, Wilt, 1962, he remembers they spoke of Chamberlain in hushed reverence, "much as I would imagine if you interviewed the Plains Indians about their first sighting of the locomotive. He was that unprecedented."
He did it 50 years ago this week. On March 2, 1962, at the Hershey Sports Arena before 4,124 fans, Chamberlain scored 100 points in a game against the New York Knicks. In the years that have elapsed, it has become an indelible moment in sports history, one that is steeped in social significance. In his book, Pomerantz observed that while Chamberlain did not look upon himself as a civil-rights activist, his achievement that evening in Hershey shattered "the unwritten quota" that limited the number of black players on a team.
"That 100-point game was a hyperbolic announcement of the ascendancy of the black athlete in the NBA," says Pomerantz, a former sportswriter and current Stanford lecturer. It was also the only time in NBA history that it was done.
Lakers star Kobe Bryant has come the closest, scoring 81 against the Raptors 6 years ago.
But far from the attention Kobe's stellar performance received - Pomerantz says it was available immediately on DVD - Wilt's 100-point game occurred in relative obscurity. No TV cameras were on hand, and there was only one still photographer, who happened to be at the game with his son. Bill Campbell's radio coverage of the fourth quarter remains, as does a statistics sheet, but by and large, the game exists in the memories of the men who were there. With each passing year, it has loomed ever larger in our collective imagination.
HARVEY POLLACK (Warriors publicity director): Remember, Wilt lived in New York in those days. He had a [nightclub] there called Small's. And he came down for practices and games. This particular day, we had a bus that left from our offices at 18th and Kennedy Boulevard. The game was at 8 p.m. and we were at the Hershey Arena by 5 p.m. They had an arcade there. They had pinball machines in there. And Wilt started playing guys in pinball. He never lost. That should have been a clue!
DAVE BUDD (Knicks player): When we entered the lobby in Hershey - that was the first time we had ever been there, although the Warriors trained there. I walked into the arcade they had there and heard this noise. And there was Wilt playing this pinball machine. Four or five players were standing around him. I stood off to the side and I could see he was hopped up. Like a big kid. He had like eight free games.
JOE RUKLICK (Warriors player): I remember how awful the locker rooms were at the Hershey Arena. They played hockey there and had large rubber squares down to protect the floor from the skates. And it smelled to high heaven. I think there were three showerheads. And you hung your gear on a hook instead of in a locker. So it was an annoying place to be.
GARY M. POMERANTZ (Author): We think of the NBA today with its glamour and glitz and promotional wizardry. But back then, sportswriters viewed the league as a lounge act. The old joke was: the crowds were so small that the PA announcer would introduce the players - and then each fan. Players washed their uniforms in hotel rooms. The NBA only had nine teams, only one west of St. Louis - and that was the Lakers, who had moved there the year before [from Minneapolis]. The Warriors played one game that season in a high-school gym in Indiana. The league was trying to develop fans in outlaying areas. And so Philadelphia owner Eddie Gottlieb played three games that year in Chocolate Town because it had an 8,000-seat arena.
BUDD: I think the Eagles played the preliminary [basketball] game that evening.
SONNY JURGENSEN (Eagles quarterback): We did. We played the Colts. We probably played 40-some games that year and only lost two or three. We had fun doing it. We traveled around. On some Sundays, we played doubleheaders. We had some fine players. Timmy Brown, Tommy McDonald, Bill Barnes and some of the others. I remember I had 38 points. We won and stayed to watch the game.
POLLACK: It was late in the season and the game had no meaning. We were in first place and the Knicks were down in the standings. Only a handful of the New York papers even sent writers to the game. In fact, the Inquirer decided not to send John Webster. He was their beat man. The beat men were Jim Heffernan of the Bulletin and Jack Kiser of the Daily News. Heffernan and Kiser were there, and I covered it for the Inquirer. I also covered it for United Press, which later became United Press International, and the Associated Press. So that evening I was the public-relations director for the Warrior, game statistician, and a stringer for the Inquirer, UP and AP. Other than that, I had nothing to do.
BILL CAMPBELL (radio broadcaster): There was no TV, only radio. The one regret I have is that we did not capture a tape of the game. In those days, taping was not a rarity but it was seldom done. No one was walking around with tape recorders. But I was fairly experienced by then, so I should have known better.
BUDD: Once our game started, Wilt had 23 points in the first quarter. And I remember coming back into the huddle between the quarters and Richie Guerin says, jokingly: "The big guy is going for 100 tonight!"
JURGENSEN: New York had a center from Cal - Darrall Imhoff. I remember years later I was at a golf tournament in Lake Tahoe with Imhoff and [former NBA player and longtime announcer] "Hot Rod" Hundley. And Hot Rod introduces Imhoff as "the man who has the distinction of having held Wilt Chamberlain to 100 points." Imhoff said: "You son of a gun. I came out the game. He only scored 85 on me!"
IMHOFF: Did you get a copy of the box score? I only played 20 minutes. I was the backup center. Our starting center was Phil Jordan, who was back at the hotel sick. I found out years later that he was hung over. So I started out with Wilt. In the first quarter, we were leaning on each other. He backed into me and they called me for blocking. I got three fouls and the coach sat me down. At that point, we had nobody else to guard him but Cleveland Buckner, who Wilt had lit up for 45 points in the second half of a game prior to that. I remember as I was leaving the court, I told Willie Smith, the referee, "Go ahead and give him 100 points and we can all go home."
BUDD: Remember, Wilt averaged 50 that year. He had been in the 70s before. But in that 100-point game, his free-throw shooting was the big difference. Ordinarily, he shot 50 percent from the free-throw line. That night, he shot 28-for-32. Everything was dropping for him.
POMERANTZ: Wilt was a 51 percent shooter from the foul line for his career. And he shot 87 percent that night. That was the miracle of Hershey. What you have to understand is that it was nearly expected that he was going to score 100 points. Coach Frank McGuire said earlier in the season, "Boy, this could happen someday the way he is going." He scored in excess of 60 points 15 times that year. And he went over 70 twice [not including the 100-point game]. He had 73. And in a triple-overtime game he had 78.
POLLACK: Unbelievable! People have written articles that that 100-point game never took place. They said it had to be a figment of my imagination! How could Wilt ever hit 28 of 32 foul shots?
CAMPBELL: It was the first indication I had that he might do something spectacular. For someone who was as big, strong, athletic and quick, I could never understand why he had such trouble shooting free throws. But that evening he was amazing!
IMHOFF: What you have to understand is that the hoops in Hershey were very loose. They were sewers - whatever you got up there close to the rim would fall in.
RUKLICK: I have heard that theory. Sour grapes.
BUDD: The rims were very favorable. I do remember that. Certain arenas, the rims were tight. At others, the rims were favorable. But the way Wilt was going, I am not sure if it was a big deal or not.
AL ATTLES (Warriors player): You play where you have to play. I can understand them being upset, but you have to give credit where credit is due. Both teams played with the same rims.
POMERANTZ: There was something to it. I spoke with people in Hershey and was told by them that when the circus came to town and played there, they pushed these baskets to the side of the arena. And kids would sneak in during the off hours. They would bring a basketball, and they would borrow the clown's springboard. And they would do these running jumps, bounce off the springboard and fly through the air like little Wilt Chamberlain. And they would dunk the ball. But as they were coming down, they would grab the rim and hold onto them, then fall catlike to the ground. So they were working those rims.
PETE D'AMBROSIO (referee): Somebody told me in our dressing room at the half that he had 41 points. I remember talking with the other referee, Willie Smith, and we concurred: Something is going to transpire today that may never happen again. But we were thinking he could get into the 80s. No one was thinking he would score 100.
POLLACK: So the game is into the second half and Wilt is still scoring heavily. He breaks his record and I said to Dave Zinkoff, the PA announcer: "Zink, how in the hell high is he going to go?" I told him he should announce the point total with each basket he scored. So he would say, "Dipper dunk, No. 82!" And so on. And as it went on, the fans would repeat it.
POMERANTZ: What happens now is this game takes on a new life. Everything intensifies. For the fans, it was like, "Wow, I knew it was a lot. But this is interesting." And for the Warriors, it intensified their curiosity: How high can this go? But for the Knicks, it intensifies their dread. They know if they give up 100, people are going to be talking about it still in 50 years. And Zink might as well have been in top hat and tails. DIPPER DUNK, CHAMBERLAIN!!!!
BUDD: Once he got up in that 70 and 80 range, the team seemed focused on getting him the ball. The guy took 63 shots along with 32 free throws, so he was handling it on every possession.
RUKLICK: What he was doing had become routine to us. That year, he was running up big numbers. But did any of us see 100 coming? I would not say that. It came like a hurricane.
IMHOFF: They let him pour it on. Once he broke the scoring record, which was 70-some points, he should have come out of the game. They were ahead. Heck, they ended up beating us, 169-147. We were irritated.
BUDD: Some of us were, especially Richie Guerin. He was a fiery leader, an ex-Marine. And he believed that once the game was in hand, it was a travesty that they kept feeding him just to get 100. I never looked at it that way. I always said, "Had Wilt had been my teammate, I would have done the same . . . "
IMHOFF: What happened was the game became crazy. The Warriors started fouling us intentionally in the backcourt just to stop the clock just so they could get the ball back in order for him to shoot.
D'AMBROSIO: They had to foul because that was what New York was doing. I am sure [Guy] Rodgers went to the line a couple of times; Attles, I guess. The last 2 minutes of the game were really a terrible mess. They were fouling to prevent Chamberlain from getting the ball again. By the same token, the Warriors were fouling in order to get the ball back and get it to Wilt. It was constant blowing of the whistle and walking up to the foul line, one end to the other, whoever happened to be fouled at the time.
ATTLES: Our coach, Frank McGuire, took some of the starters - me, Tom Meschery and Paul Arizin - out of the game and left in Guy and Wilt. He brought in some guys off the bench. What he was doing was counteracting what the Knicks were doing . . . They would foul or hold the ball and then we would foul. It became a battle of wills.
IMHOFF: I would say it was a farce. When I came back in the fourth quarter, he had 89 points. So I played out my fouls . . . and I think he had 94 by then.
POMERANTZ: What happened was that it became one against five. The Warriors were just trying to get the ball into Wilt. The Knicks are trying to drain the clock. They were dribbling in a Z pattern - from this side to that side to this to that side - and they added in some passes. And when the Warriors had the ball, the Knicks start to foul them. Anyone but Wilt. And the Warriors counter by fouling to stop the clock. Paul Arizin told me, "If anyone walked into the arena now, they would think the Knicks were winning and we were losing."
BUDD: At the very end, as the clock was winding down and Wilt was at 98, I remember that he began rushing his shots. That was uncharacteristic of him. It took him two or three tries to actually get that 100th point. He shot, he missed. He got the rebound. He shot, he missed. And then the ball went out to Ruklick.
RUKLICK: I had come in off the bench. On the 100th point, they had three men on him. I got the ball 12 feet from the basket and I was wide open for an easy jump shot. I looked at Wilt and he was surrounded. So he bumped a guy off his hip and his hands were in the air. His palms were pointed at me and I heard him shout, "Woo!" which was his signal to me that he was open and I should throw him the ball. And I did. It landed in his hands, and he went in for a short shot.
POLLACK: And Zink yells, "That's 100!!!" All 4,000 people flew onto the floor.
RUKLICK: I am ashamed of what I did then. I went over to the official scorer and said, "Don't forget to give me that assist."
ATTLES: It was chaos . . . It took a while to get the fans off the floor. We came back out and played the last 40 seconds. And Wilt stood off to the side. In retrospect, what I was happy about was that he never scored another basket. Because there is something magical about 100 points.
POLLACK: Wilt stood on the sidelines. He was through for the night. So the Knicks were playing five against four . . . When the game ended, I immediately began typing: "Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points tonight to break all NBA records as the Philadelphia Warriors beat the New York Knicks - whatever the score was - at the Hershey Arena before 4,124 people . . . " I went to the dressing room. No photographers had been assigned to the game, but an AP photographer had come with his son, paid his way in. When he saw what was happening, he went back to his car and got his camera. In the locker room, he was just stranding there. I said, "Are you taking pictures?" I got a piece of paper from one of the writers, wrote 100 on it and the photographer snapped a picture of Wilt with it. Remember that picture? Then I scooted out of there. I dictated stories off the top of my head for the UP and AP, and then did a write-through for the Inquirer.
IMHOFF: [The Knicks'] Willie Naulls drove back with him. I was on the bus.
ATTLES: He drove back with Willie and Johnny Green. The story goes - and again Wilt told it: He stretched out across the back seat and pretended he was asleep, because Willie and Johnny were saying, "You know, we ought to put him out on the freeway."
POMERANTZ: Wilt said a number of things that we know were just not true. He said he took the team bus. He did not. He said he took a nap before the game at a hotel the team stayed at in Hershey. The team did not stay in a hotel. He said he drove back to New York with a few Knicks. It was just Wilt and Willie Naulls. It is all part of the mythology. The fact that it is not all crystallized gives almost this feeling of a comic-book superhero at work.
CAMPBELL: I remember I was driving home on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and thinking: "Holy cow! This guy just scored 100 points and there is no tape of it." When I got home at 1:30 a.m., I could not sleep. I was tortured by my goof. Anyway, I was at WCAU when a guy calls me up and says, "Mr. Campbell. I am sure you have a recording of this. But in case you would like to have it, I recorded part of the fourth quarter. I would be glad to send it to you."
POLLACK: After I finished my story for the paper, everybody was gone except the crew I had come up with from Philadelphia; the equipment manager and so on. They had to wait for me. So I get in the car and say to the driver, "Stop at the first bar you come to. I need a drink."
IMHOFF: We played them in New York 2 days later. He [Chamberlain] had that place up in Harlem, Small's, so he wanted to score another 100 in New York. So Phil [Jordan] was still sick - or whatever he was - and I am still the only center. I get a telegram from two of my former teammates from Cal. And they said: "Great defensive effort. Pete Newell would be proud of you." That was enough to piss me off. Anyway, I got out there and played my heart out to keep the ball away from him. I fouled out with 2 minutes to go and we were ahead, 94-92. Wilt got 52 points and I got a standing ovation from the Garden crowd.
CAMPBELL: Over the years, I remember Wilt and I would be at some affair and would be seated next to one another. People would come up to him - and this happened more than once - and they would say, "Boy, that night you scored 100 at Boston Garden, I was there." Or, "That night you scored 100 at the Arena, I was there." Or, "That night you scored 100 at Convention Hall, I was there." Forty-thousand people said they were there!
POMERANTZ: To score 100 points in a game, you not only have to want to do it, you have to need to do it. As Wilt had a Goliath-sized skill set, he had a Goliath-sized ego. He needed to bend the sport to his will. He scored 100 points because he could.