As we head into the 2015 NBA Finals, there still seems to be some doubt when it comes to the question of the greatest NBA player in the history of the game? Let me make it perfectly clear from the very beginning. The greatest NBA player ever, should be measured by what he did to change how the game is played today! He should not be measured by how many NBA titles, how many scoring titles, how many rebounding titles, how many assist titles, triple doubles titles, MVP awards or how many 100 point games he had during his NBA career.
The irony of all those stats, there is only one player who can lay claim to winning in every statistical category—Wilt Chamberlain.
Wilt holds numerous NBA records in scoring, rebounding and durability categories. He is the only player to score 100 points in a single NBA game or average more than 40 and 50 points in a season. He also won seven scoring, nine field goal percentage, and eleven rebounding titles, and led the league in assist once. He is the only player in NBA history to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game in a season, a feat he accomplished nine times. He is also the only player to average at least 30 points and 20 rebounds per game over the entire course of his NBA career. I am still trying to figure out, “Where is the beef? Some have said, ‘Harold he was bigger and taller then everyone else!’ Give me a break, there have been dozens of 7 foot plus NBA players pass through the league and none resembled Wilt, and that includes Russell, Kareem or Shack.
I further understand if some of you NBA experts never got to see Wilt play and are only experts during the Michael Jordan and LaBron James eras (my sincere apologies go out to Kobe fans that he is not a part of this conversation).
My advantage and expertise lies in the fact that I have been honored to see all three up close and personal. Its Wilt hands down.
Wilt Chamberlain was so over-powering the NBA had to change the rules so that everyone else would have an equal chance to compete against him. First, they raised the basket, next they widen the lane and finally made it mandatory that a player could only stay in the lane under the basket for three seconds. “The hack a Shack” was established long before Shack O’Neil arrived in the NBA. Wilt will go down as one of the NBA’s worst free throw shooters ever. Once coaches and players discovered his Achilles Heel, ‘The Hack A Wilt’ was born. And that is how you measure GREATNESS in the NBA.
There were times Wilt suffered a long string of professional losses, still he had a successful career, winning two NBA championships four regular-season Most Valuable Player awards, the Rookie of the Year award, one NBA Finals MVP award, and being selected to 13 All-Star Games and ten All-NBA First and Second teams. Wilt was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978, elected into the NBA’s 35th Anniversary Team of 1980, and chosen as one of the 50 Greatest in NBA History in 1996.
I remember in an interview with the great Sam Jones of the Boston Celtics saying, “Wilt could have been as greater defensive player as my teammate Bill Russell if he wanted to!” Wilt committed surprisingly few fouls during his NBA career, despite the rugged play in the post. Wilt never fouled out of a regular season or playoff game in his 14-year NBA career. His career average was only two fouls per game, despite having averaged 45.8 minutes per game over his career. He had five seasons where he committed less than two fouls per game, with a career low of 1.5 fouls during the 1962 season, in which he also averaged 50.4 points per game. His fouls per 36 minutes (a stat used to compare players that average vastly different minutes) was a remarkable 1.6 per game.
“First he was a scorer. Then he was a rebound and assist man. Then with our great Laker team in 1972, he concentrated on the defensive end,” said Coach Bill Sharman. Sharman’s words echo Sam Jones.
There was recent talk of Michael Jordan at the age of 52 could beat LaBron James if they met one on one today, that would be a great match-up with both in the prime of their careers. But under no circumstances could either of them beat Wilt in the prime of his career. Wilt was a great all- around athlete, he ran the 100-yard dash in 10.9 seconds, shot-putted 56 feet, triple jumped more than 50 feet, and won the high jump in the Big Eight track and field championships three straight years.
He was nobody’s dummy he was an honor roll student in high school, but his smartest move in sports was when he turned down a challenge to fight The Greatest, Muhammad Ali for 5 million dollars.
I first met Wilt when he was a freshman at the University of Kansas. He came to DC to visit former Cardozo High School football, track and field star David Harris who was his roommate. Dave had arranged for Wilt to play against DC playground legend and future NBA Hall of Fame player Elgin Baylor. The pick-up game would be played at Kelly Miller playground in NE DC. The game is now folklore in the annals of DC playground basketball, especially, with those who claim they were there when the game took place. Every time the story is told hundreds more are added to the attendance roll. I was officially there, because when Dave pulled up in Wilt’s blood-red convertible caddilac, he threw me the keys and told me to park it somewhere safe. The next time I met Wilt, I was with Philadelphia native son, my media mentor and friend, Sonny Hill aka ‘Mr. Basketball.’ We were at Wilt’s house for a party after a summer league basketball game in the city of Brotherly Love.
I last spoke with Wilt when he was on his book tour with the stories of how he had managed to have slept with 20,000 women. I knew Carl Greene as a Winston-Salem State University alumnus and we became good friends during homecomings and his visits to the CIAA Tournament. Carl was a dear friend of Wilt’s, they were teammates with the Harlem Globetrotters. I discovered that Wilt was going to be in Arlington, Virginia for a book signing, I thought this would a great opportunity to invite him on Inside Sports. Carl contacted him and he agreed.
The Saturday evening before the show it rained “Cats and Dogs!” Wilt called to say “Harold, I am stuck over here in Virginia, can I get a rain-check for the show. No pud intended, I will make it up to you?” He never did, he died shortly there after.
Wilt died of congestive heart failure on October 9, 1999 in Bel-Air California he was 63 years old. In September a memorial service was held in his honor in his hometown of Philadelphia. I was there with a Who’s Who of the NBA, and playground basketball legends, all who came to celebrate the life of a hometown legend and icon.
In the final analyst, can someone name me one game changing rule Michael Jordan or LaBron James was responsible for? Wilt’s work speaks volumes. Any further discussions comparing Jordan or James to Wilt will be out of bounds. RIP big fellow.