Michael Jordan is the GOAT. This opinion has been echoed by so many fans and NBA personnel that it has practically become a mantra in basketball circles and barbershops worldwide. The Jordan legacy and brand has become so iconic that it has become a symbol for the gold standard. Jordan’s career was about as close to perfection as one can get and he was dubbed ‘Black Jesus’ by many of his contemporaries. However, a lot of people forget that the NBA greatly predates Jordan’s career. Before his Airness, there was a new sheriff in the NBA. His name was Wilt Chamberlain.
To the casual NBA fan, Chamberlain is little more than a statistic god who never realized his potential as a winner. While Chamberlain only won 2 titles in 1967 and 1972, his career was far more than that. For starters, Wilt Chamberlain made the NBA players of his era seem smaller than the people of Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels. He was a physical beast that could have excelled in nearly any sport, team or individual.
This is because Chamberlain was, as the people of social media now say, “built different.” He was 7’1″, 275 pounds when the average NBA center was just over 6’9’’ and 225 pounds. This imposing frame didn’t just give Wilt’s team an intimidation factor; it allowed them to abuse the fact they had one of the strongest players in NBA history. In his physical prime, Chamberlain was able to bench press 550 pounds, 85 pounds more than the max of Shaquille O’Neal, who many regard as the most physically dominant player of the modern era. Had Chamberlain decided that he did not need a finesse game, the league would have been as helpless as me trying to guard LeBron James. NBA contemporary and coach Jack McMahon echoed this sentiment, saying that “The best thing that happened to the NBA is that God made Wilt a nice person … he could have killed us all with his left hand.”
His other absurd physical feats include running the 100-yard dash in 10.9 seconds, throwing a shot put 56 feet, triple jumping 50 feet and allegedly holding the highest vertical in NBA history at 48 inches. One of the most impressive parts of these accomplishments, at least to me personally, is that they were achieved while wearing converses, a shoe that offers next to zero foot support. To put it very simply, if you go to your local YMCA and see someone lacing up a pair of Chuck Taylor Converses, one of two things are bound to happen. They are either gonna play one game of pickup basketball and then quit sports altogether or you are about to be humbled by your local Uncle Drew.
Despite the unfortunate lack of game film of Chamberlain, multiple celebrities have given the NBA legend extremely high praise, validating his statistical output that looks like an outlier in every category. Widely acclaimed bodybuilding specialist and award-winning actor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was the strongest man he had ever seen. Even the terminator has to give Chamberlain his props, especially after seeing firsthand that he was able to perform 180-pound reps of tricep extensions and lift his 240-pound self with one arm.
Chamberlain is also on an extremely short list of athletes that are Hall of Famers in two different sports. It is even more impressive that he ascended the ranks of volleyball so quickly after only being introduced to the sport professionally at age thirty-seven. He also had offers from athletics agents and the NFL, especially after beating all-time great running back Jim Brown in a race.
While the praises of his athletic prowess could go on endlessly, it is time to finally grasp how unstoppable he was against NBA competition. Chamberlain is the holder of nearly every scoring record the NBA has to offer, the first of which was when he broke the record for rookie scoring with 37.6 ppg, a record that still stands today. Additionally, he has the highest scoring average in a season (50.4), most points in a game (100), is the only player to score 60+ points in consecutive games, something he did four times in a row and would have the all-time scoring record if he was focused on just scoring and did not opt to play volleyball. Chamberlain’s numbers look almost ironically inflated, even in today’s league where stars are dropping buckets more regularly than in any previous era (shameless plug: Find out why in my last NBA column). Here are some numbers that juxtapose his scoring output to his NBA peers. Chamberlain has the most 60 point games in NBA history (32), twenty-six more than Kobe Bryant in second place. He also had more 50 point games in just the ‘61-’62 season with 45 than Michael Jordan had in his entire career (31). Chamberlain also has more than twice the number of 65+ point games than the rest of the NBA combined. It is also important to note that Wilt’s scoring averages may be deflated because scoring got too easy for him at some point and he decided to become the only center in NBA history to ever lead the league in assists.
And don’t worry folks, the saga continues. Chamberlain was much more than just a scorer. He is the only player to snag more than 2000 rebounds in a season, an achievement he managed to do twice. He also never grabbed less than double-digit rebounds in any playoff game he participated in. Even to the basketball casuals, the validity of this impressive stat is a no-brainer. He jumped the highest of any NBA player ever, so of course, he was the rebounding king. However, it is how he did this in conjunction with his scoring greatness that makes it especially noteworthy. He is the only player to lead the league in scoring and rebounding simultaneously, something he did six times, and is the only player to score 40 points and grab 40 rebounds in a game, a casual feat for Chamberlain as he did it eight times. The stat that really captures how well-rounded his game was is that he managed to put up a quintuple double. This is a term that is never heard now in NBA circles because it is one of the most absurd stat lines a player can produce. On March 18th, 1968, Chamberlain put up 53 points, 32 rebounds, 14 assists, 24 blocks and 11 steals. These are numbers that people struggle to generate playing NBA 2K, let alone in real life against other professionals.
Lastly, I’d like to include some extraneous statistics that are particularly interesting to me but don’t justify their own categories. Wilt has the most shot attempts in a game without a miss (18-18), has the most consecutive games without fouling out (1045), is the only known human that can block Kareem-Abdul Jabbar’s skyhook and averaged 48.5 minutes per game in the 1961-62 season. No, that is not a typo and they still played 48 minutes per game back then. As a result of playing in multiple overtimes and only sitting out eight minutes that entire season, he is the holder of a record that will likely never be broken.
Wilt Chamberlain’s career is one that is so great that people question if it ever really happened. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1999 from a heart attack before answering questions such as how he was so great but remains one of the only people that had the credibility to trash talk Michael Jordan: “The difference between you and me is that they had to change the rules, so I couldn’t dominate. They changed the rules for you so that you could dominate.”