NBA

Wilt Chamberlain took command on the basketball court in the 1950’s; He can score, rebound and throw assists

Rich Podolsky  

A few days ago we passed the 62nd anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s amazing 100-point game. It was March 2nd, 1962 in Hershey, PA., yet there are still some out there that don’t believe it ever happened.

For Tik-Tok-ers and other social media crazies, if there’s no video of the game it never happened.

The NBA was so new at that time that TV rarely covered away games, especially near the end of the season. Most of the New York and Philly columnists were in Florida for Spring Training following Roger Maris’s holdout. The Athletic covered some of this in its recent piece but mysteries still prevail. Here’s why:

When Wilt came into the league in 1959 he was by far the biggest, strongest, fastest athlete the NBA had ever seen. At Overbrook High in Philly Chamberlain was a star in track and field as well. While there he high jumped 6 feet-6, ran the 440 in 49 seconds, long jumped 22 feet and put the shot 53 feet 4 inches. He was so good in basketball that after one year at Kansas he joined the Globetrotters because the NBA wouldn’t allow him to be drafted until his class graduated.

That 1961-62 season Wilt was just 25 and completely dominated nearly every game. He averaged an incredible 50 points per game for the entire 80-game season. A few games before his record-breaker he scored 78 for the new record. Two nights later, on March 4th he ‘only’ scored 58 against the Knicks (at MSG this time) while taking down 35 rebounds. And that was just an average game.

In 1962 the NBA would never be considered in the same class as Major League Baseball and the fast-rising NFL. The NBA was trying to find its way and playing a Philly home game in Hershey was a way to draw more fans from the hinterlands. And by the way, Wilt’s team was the Warriors then, not the 76ers. Two nights earlier they played the Chicago Packers, not the Bulls.

The Warriors beat the New York Knicks by 22 points that fateful night, 169-147, yet none of the nine beat writers for the New York papers made the trip to Hershey, and according to the Warriors’ jack-of-all-trades Harvey Pollack, only one beat writer showed from Philly’s three hometown papers. But the question still lingers who that writer was.

Former NFL executive Jim Heffernan was the beat writer that year for the Philadelphia Bulletin, but there’s no story with his byline to be found. Heff, who passed away a year ago at age 92, did take part in a 2012 documentary the NBA produced about the achievement. In it, Heff says he supplied the blank piece of paper that Pollack wrote 100 on and handed it to Wilt for the infamous photograph.

So he was there, but was he the only writer. The AP’s Pulitzer-winning photographer Paul Vathis, who wasn’t even working the game, took the photo. Between the 3rd and 4th quarters after realizing the record was near, Vathis ran to get his camera from his car in the parking lot.

After the game Pollack called in a story for Philadelphia Inquirer’s early edition and then later dictated a follow-up under the byline “Special to the Inquirer.” He also called in versions to UPI and AP. But what about the Philly Daily News? Jack Kiser was the beat writer for the News and was one of the best and most clever writers in a city fully of them (including Bill Conlin, Sandy Grady, Stan Hochman and Larry Merchant). The next day a terrific by-lined piece by Kiser appeared in the News with the dateline Hershey.

It sure looked like he was there. His piece had tidbits like the Knicks trying to freeze the ball in the 4th quarter to avoid Wilt hitting 100, and conversely the Warriors fouling the Knicks to get the ball back. But its certainly possible that Pollack called Kiser with all that info because Pollack, who is featured in the documentary, never mentioned Kiser’s name.

One guy who was there was WCAU play-by-play man Bill Campbell who called the game. You can still hear his 4thquarter call after searching YouTube or Google. I spoke with Campbell about it in 71 at Brandywine Raceway. When Wilt got his 100th point with 46 seconds to go, Campbell shouted, “The most amazing performance of all time. One hundred points for the Big Dipper!”

And for anyone else who has any doubts, then you can read Gary Pomerantz’s well-researched book about that famous night. In it Pomerantz interviewed more than 60 players, refs, workers, executives and fans that were at the game. The book is called, “Wilt 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era.”

(Yes, it was on a happenstance in Hershey! Bill Campbell and Byrum Saam called the 100 point irreplaceable radio NBA broadcast. The Knicks were pretty awful, running only a few broadcasts. Les Keiter was doing the miniscule number of Knicks games on radio.)

 

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Rich Podolsky

Rich Podolsky, an established writer and reporter since the 70s, has been a staff writer for CBS and has written for ESPN, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Palm Beach Post, the Wilmington News Journal, College & Pro Football Newsweekly and TV Guide. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers' Keystone Award for writing excellence. A fan of music from the 60s and 70s, he is the author of "Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear," which relates how Kirshner discovered Bobby Darin, Carole King and Neil Sedaka among others, and "Neil Sedaka, Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor,” which tells the inside story of Sedaka’s comeback. His new book, “You Are Looking Live!” is about CBS’ revolutionary pregame show in 1975 which introduced Brent, Phyllis, Irv and The Greek to America.

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