It seemed so absurd, it might as well have happened in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
A player of Bunyanesque proportions pulls off a feat straight out of a basketball fantasyland, and only a smattering of fans are there to see it in the candy-coated nowheresville of Hershey, Pa.
Where’s the TV footage? How come there’s no full radio account of the game?
Wilt Chamberlain did indeed log the NBA’s only single-triple 50 years ago Friday, the colossus of a center scoring 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors long before a player’s exploits could be broadcast in high definition or instantaneously dispensed through social media.
The nation wasn’t watching the Warriors’ game against the New York Knicks, much less texting or tweeting about it.
There was no television because of poor lighting inside the Hershey Sports Arena. A partial radio recording exists only because a student listening to a late-night rebroadcast of the game taped the fourth quarter from his dorm room.
It’s no wonder that all these years later, the myths surrounding Chamberlain’s triple-digit haul may outnumber his points that game.
There is the notion that the player measuring a fraction over 7 feet 1 and weighing 280 pounds scored most of his points on dunks (hardly).
There is the belief that the game was not resumed after Chamberlain reached his milestone with 46 seconds left (it was).
And perhaps most astonishingly, there remains one more sentiment about the Warriors’ 169-147 victory: It was a hoax (scores of surviving players would tell you otherwise).
“There are still some people out there who believe that Wilt Chamberlain never scored 100 points in a game in Hershey,” said Gary Pomerantz, who wrote “Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era.”
“They need to get over it.”
Chamberlain can no longer help separate fact from fiction. He died of a heart attack at age 63 in 1999 after a Hall of Fame career that included four most-valuable-player awards, seven scoring titles, 13 All-Star games, and five seasons and one title with the Lakers.
But if anyone is singularly qualified to set the record straight about the most prolific scoring performance in NBA history, it’s Harvey Pollack.
On that storied night in Hershey, Pollack was there to get the story. The Warriors’ publicity director was also covering the game for the Associated Press, United Press and the Philadelphia Inquirer, none of whom could be bothered to send a reporter to watch a seemingly meaningless late-season game in what was then considered a third-rate professional league.
It was also Pollack’s responsibility to tally every field goal, field-goal attempt, rebound, assist and point as the Warriors’ head statistician, a role in which he was undoubtedly put to best use. “Other than that,” Pollack, now 89, said of his myriad tasks, “I didn’t do anything.”
Although only three NBA teams currently average more than the 100 points Chamberlain scored against the Knicks, the player who mounted the biggest threat to the revered record said he thinks it can be broken.
“Somebody will do it,” said the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who splurged for 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006. “It probably won’t happen in our lifetime or in the next lifetime, but it will happen.”
Chamberlain and the Warriors rolled into Hershey on the afternoon of March 2, 1962, to play the latest in a series of games in their secondary home as the NBA, still struggling for acceptance, tried to extend its reach to outlying areas.
Even before the opening tip, it wasn’t an even matchup.
The playoff-bound Warriors were facing the lowly Knicks, who would finish with the league’s second-worst record and were missing Phil Jordon, their starting center-forward. The official story was that he was suffering from the flu, though his teammates knew better.
“The inside scoop was he was hung over,” said Darrall Imhoff, the 6-10 center who took Jordon’s spot.
Imhoff started but played only 20 minutes because of foul trouble. That left Cleveland Buckner, a 6-9 rookie from Jackson State, and a host of other undersized defenders to contend with Chamberlain, the irrepressible giant who was then in his third NBA season.
Utilizing an array of putback baskets, free throws, fadeaway jumpers and “Dipper dunks,” named for the gentlemanly fashion in which the so-called Big Dipper laid the ball into the basket, Chamberlain had 41 points by halftime. Not all that extraordinary, considering the Warriors center would score more than 60 points on 15 occasions that season and average 50.4 points per game.
Even as Chamberlain’s assault on his own single-game record of 78 points stretched into the third quarter, it wasn’t clear that anything special was afoot. There was no scoreboard listing individual point totals, so Chamberlain continued to labor without much fanfare.
That soon changed. Pollack sidled up to flamboyant public-address announcer Dave Zinkoff, suggesting that Zinkoff update the crowd of 4,124 on Chamberlain’s swelling point total. It might have been the biggest assist Chamberlain received all game.
“That’s the moment when everyone in the arena has context and everything intensified — crowd interest, curiosity of Wilt’s teammates who wondered, ‘How high can this go?’ and the dread of the New York Knicks,” Pomerantz said. “At that point, the game’s normal rhythms break down and it’s all about Wilt.”
Imhoff said it was then that the Warriors made a concerted effort to foul the Knicks to stop the clock, generating more possessions for Chamberlain. But Chamberlain’s teammate Al Attles insisted that the Knicks were the more pugnacious bunch, and the box score proves it: New York committed 32 fouls to Philadelphia’s 25.
Hacking Chamberlain, a notoriously poor free-throw shooter whose underhand form resembled that of a little boy on the playground, might have seemed like a good idea, but not on this night. He made 28 of 32 free throws, an unfathomable 87.5%.
With little more than a minute to play, Chamberlain had scored 29 points in the fourth quarter to give him 98 for the game. He took a shot and missed. He missed again.
And then it happened. Chamberlain took a pass from teammate Joe Ruklick and drove toward the basket with 46 seconds left.
“A Dipper dunk!” Warriors radio broadcaster Bill Campbell blurted. “The fans are all over the floor! One hundred points for Wilt Chamberlain!”
There was still some history to make.
Paul Vathis, an off-duty photographer who attended the game as a birthday present to his son, at halftime fetched his camera from his car and planted himself underneath a basket. In the locker room afterward, Vathis hunted down Pollack, who had already filed his initial game stories and was shifting back into PR mode for the Warriors.
Pollack asked Vathis if he had everything he needed from Chamberlain.
“Yeah, but I don’t really have the story,” Vathis said. “There’s nothing to show what happened tonight.”
Pollack tore a piece of paper from a notebook, scrawled “100" on it and handed it to Chamberlain. The big man who had been embarrassed by his taking 63 shots (he made 36) managed a weary smile as he posed for what would become perhaps the most enduring image in NBA history.
As Chamberlain’s 100-point game was about to turn 50 this week, a few of the NBA’s top scorers still struggled to comprehend the feat.
Michael Jordan, widely considered the greatest player in the history of the game, topped out at 69 points in a single game. The prolific Pete Maravich never scored more than 68.
“One hundred points in a game,” mused former Denver Nuggets superstar David Thompson, “that’s crazy.”
Thompson’s exploits could be considered half-mad then, considering he scored 53 points in the first two quarters against Detroit on April 9, 1978, finishing the game with 73 after the Pistons swarmed him with a variety of double teams in the second half.
Thompson had scored more points in a game than anyone but Chamberlain until Bryant dropped 81 on the Raptors six years ago during an otherworldly display in which the Lakers star made 28 of 46 shots, including seven of 13 three-point attempts.
Will anyone make a run at triple digits again?
“I’m not even sure a player can come close,” said Portland guard Jamal Crawford, who scored 52 points for the Knicks against Miami in 2007. “Scouting reports are so advanced, guys have a lot of pride and there’s a lot of team defense; it would be hard for a person to score 100. After 40, 50, guys are making adjustments.”
Consider Bryant among those willing to suspend disbelief, just like many have (and haven’t) since hearing about Chamberlain’s performance in Hershey.
If it happens, Bryant said, it will probably materialize in dreamlike fashion.
“If somebody told you before ’06 I was going to score 81,” Bryant said, “you would have been like, ‘Go kick rocks.’ But it happened. These things happen.
“There’s no explanation for it, there’s no rhyme or reason for it, they just do. And when it does, it’s going to be a monumental event.”