ALL BALL NERVE CENTER – Wilt Chamberlain retired from the NBA in 1973, before I was even born, so I never had the chance to see the Big Dipper play. But a few years ago when I was working at SLAM, as we were putting together our list of the 500 greatest players of all-time, I started digging into Wilt’s statistics, and the numbers were just astonishing. (No, not that number.)
I know there is context that needs to be factored in — pace of play, the relative size of the League at the time — but still, the digits Wilt compiled were nothing short of staggering. He never averaged less than 18 rebounds a game for his career. One season he averaged over 48 minutes per game. That same season, he averaged 50 points per game. His first decade in the NBA he averaged at least 20 points and rebounds per game. We heard a story passed down from the Philly playgrounds where Wilt grew up about a dunk he could do: He would hold the ball in one arm up against his elbow, clinched between his forearm and bicep, then jump up way above the rim and using his other arm, punch the ball down through the rim.
The argument against Wilt’s greatness was always that he was just Goliath, that it was his height that made him dominant. Which is why I found the video below so fascinating: Here’s four minutes of very self-aware conversation with Wilt, animated by PBS Digital’s Blank on Blank project. And right away, Wilt addresses the notion that he was only great because of his size.