“Wilt the Stilt”, “The Big Dipper” are just two of the many nicknames used to describe the phenomenon that was Wilt Chamberlain.
100 points in a single game, 50+ PPG for a season, leader in almost every statistical category at the time of his retirement, Wilt Chamberlain dominated the game like no other man ever has. However, with only two NBA titles to show, his career never reached the heights it should have. Partly it was because of his teammates, and majorly because of a man called Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. In his NBA career, Wilt reached the deep end of the playoffs in almost every season, and almost every time he was thwarted by the Celtics and Russell. The few times he managed to get past them, he ended up winning the title or coming very close to it.
Wilt Chamberlain signed with the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors after his short stint with the Harlem Globetrotters and immediately made a huge impact on the league. He won his first MVP in his rookie season, becoming the first player to do so. He regularly averaged over 30 points a game and over 25 rebounds. He finished his career with the impossible stat line of 30 points and 20 rebounds per game, a feat that he is hard to believe will ever be managed again. But for all his individual honors and records, his team records are not as great, a major criticism against the Big man.
Wilt always lamented the lack of quality around him and how the Celtics had the better team. It’s the story of every great player who never won enough championships, but the hallmark of a true great is also based on how he made his teammates better. Wilt was never the motivator or the passer that he needed to be to form a dynasty. He was a phenomenal scorer and shot blocker and rebounder, but he could never become a true leader of his men. His wild partying lifestyle and his claim of bedding over 20,000 women probably got in the way of him cementing his legacy as the Greatest ever.
When Wilt transferred to the Los Angeles Lakers, he became more of a team player than ever before. Gone were the days when he was the sole superstar on his team and was filling the box scores day in and day out. With future hall of famers in Elgin Baylor and Jerry West by his side, it looked like the Lakers would dominate the NBA for seasons to come. But sadly, that was not to be as they ended with just a single title together. Wilt himself became more of a passer and rebounder, and shared the scoring duties with West and Baylor. It was a super team in its own right and one that has gone down in history and the ‘Big Dipper’ was a huge factor in it.
Wilt Chamberlain is still regarded as the most dominant player of his time, and he was responsible for widening of the lane near the basket because he was able to dunk over his opponents with alarming ease and was impossible to stop. He was a notoriously bad free throw shooter, and decided to dunk the ball instead of shoot it, a tactic that was outlawed.
A soft and kind-hearted man, Wilt never truly unleashed his full potential on the court because he was afraid he would hurt someone. He once broke a man’s shoulder while blocking his shot and he was a tower amongst his peers at his time. There had never been a player as massive in size as him, and the league and teams had to resort to a lot of innovative tactics to try and stop the most dominant player in the league. A true great and inspiration to us all, the legacy of Wilt Chamberlain will live on as long as the game of basketball is played.
Photo by Kip-koech