by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

We’re just past Christmas, but it’s never too late to pick up a worthy book for a gift or personal enjoyment. And once in a while, we at TGS are so moved by one of these literary works that we are compelled to make mention of it to our audience for special occasions.

Such is the case with Wilt, 1962 by Gary Pomerantz, the definitive narrative of the night Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points for the old Philadelphia Warriors on March 2, 1962 against the New York Knicks.

To this day, Wilt’s 100-point game remains the subject of awe and disbelief among basketball aficionados. Although the hoops followers who remain least surprised by that gargantuan statistical feat are those who actually watched “The Big Dipper� in action over a half century ago.

(Side note: A few years ago, we had occasion to contact Darrall Imhoff, the former longtime NBA center who happened to start for the Knicks that night and drew the thankless assignment of guarding Wilt in his 100-point game. Imhoff, who enjoyed an extended and serviceable pro career, would eventually, and unfortunately, be recalled more for the embarrassment of being the man who guarded Chamberlain that game. Our purpose for contacting Imhoff was for another book project of ours, and his recollections of his college days at Cal and games against the Oscar Robertson-led Cincinnati Bearcats in the Final Fours on 1959 and 1960, which relieved Imhoff, who was a bit hesitant to talk at first but quickly and graciously opened up to us and became one of our favorite interviewees for the Bearcats vs. Ramblers project. “Most writers who contact me these days want to talk about the Wilt game,� said Imhoff. “I’m sure glad you called to talk about something else!�)

Still, for all of Chamberlain’s many accomplishments, the entire 1961-62 season is the sort of highlight reel that in retrospect seems as much fantasy as factual. After all, Wilt scored an astounding 50.4 ppg that campaign while hauling in a staggering 25.7 rebounds per game! The latter, however, doesn’t even qualify for a Chamberlain season-high in caroms, which was recorded the previous 1960-61 campaign when gobbling 27.2 boards per contest. But, perhaps because so few people (paid attendance 4,124) actually saw Wilt’s feat that night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and since there is no video or film recording of game, Wilt’s 100-point extravaganza continues to carry an enduring and mysterious aura more than a half-century later.

We had originally read the Pomerantz book several years ago, shortly after its 2005 release date, and renewed our interest in Chamberlain’s herculean accomplishment of 100 points when researching one of our “retrospective� stories on the American Athletic Conference for the 2013 football season during the past summer. In that piece we highlighted the glory days of Bill Yeoman’s Houston Cougars and devoted extra space to UH’s 100-6 win over Tulsa in 1968. In that presentation, we mentioned how that Cougar win had generated some of the same sort of historic curiosity among college football fans as did Wilt’s 100-point game against the Knicks from 1962.

Houston’s 100-point effort vs. Tulsa, however, was a team effort. Wilt’s 100-point game remains the pinnacle of individual basketball accomplishment.

The Pomerantz book is presented in a unique manner, in a sort of stop-start, but engaging, timeline form, with the author bouncing back and forth between an ongoing description of the game that night vs. the Knicks and various other storylines involving not only the larger-than-life Chamberlain, but also a long-ago era in the NBA when it was common for teams like the old Warriors to play the occasional home game in outlying locales such as Hershey to attract new fans.

(The old Hershey Arena, now the Hersheypark Arena, remains standing next to the amusement park of the same name; it is still used semi-regularly for local hockey games, though the AHL Hershey Bears have moved to the nearby Giant Center. We made a detour to see the barrel-shaped, art-deco structure a few years ago and were pleasantly surprised to see it still clean and functional and in operating condition!)

Pomerantz also intersperses brief chapters regarding Wilt’s 1962 Warriors teammates, highlighting their relationships to the The Big Dipper and their roles on the night Wilt scored his 100 points. Other timeless basketball characters, such as the Harlem Globetrotters’ Abe Saperstein (who would employ Wilt for two seasons from 1957-59) and legendary Philly P.A. announcer Dave Zinkoff, have passages devoted to them as well.

The book, in fact, effectively works backwards, beginning its commentary with Wilt’s passing in 1999 before eventually coming full circle in the Epilogue, commenting on The Big Dipper in the post-Wilt world, while trying to put into context his oversized life and persona, of which the 100-point feat remains perhaps the most compelling chapter. Although Wilt, 1962 was not a full biography of Wilt’s many-faceted life, it did relate much of his unique existence to that memorable night in Hershey.

Yet Wilt, 1962 is much more than a basketball book. It is also a snapshot of an era at the outset of the Civil Rights movement, and how Wilt navigated those choppy waters like few athletes of his time. Pomerantz details much of Wilt’s life, from his school days in Philadelphia and when the Chamberlain phenomenon first caused such a commotion at Overbrook High (where he was also a track-and-field star), to some unique commentary on his brief college career at Kansas, providing another snapshot of a far different era. Such as this fascinating passage from Pomerantz than can be found within Chapter Four (“The Rise of the Dipper�).

At Kansas, the Dipper's focus was not on the classroom. Discus thrower Al Oerter, winner of gold medals for four consecutive Olympics from 1956 to 1968, shared a business class with Chamberlain at KU. He always noticed when Chamberlain was there, which by Oerter's estimate was "one out of ten [classes]." Oerter looked up from his final examination and saw a small white student signing his name on the exam as "Wilt Chamberlain." Oerter whispered to the student, "Somehow you don't look like Wilt." Oerter trained with Chamberlain during Kansas's outdoor track and field season; they shared side-by-side lockers. The Dipper's strength and massive skeletal structure impressed Oerter. Chamberlain wanted to become a decathlete, no doubt to prove his strength and endurance in the most physically demanding of Olympic events. The Kansas track coach asked Oerter to instruct the Dipper how to throw the discus. Because of his height, Chamberlain struggled with the throwing motion, though his raw power amazed Oerter. He also saw that when Chamberlain placed his hand on a sixteen-pound shot, his fingers wrapped around it and touched his palm. These would become problems for the Dipper if he hoped to become a world-class decathlete. (The pole vault event especially worried Chamberlain: "I'd get way up there, then find myself with a lot of legs.") After a workout in spring 1957, Oerter saw the roly-poly Abe Saperstein appear in the locker room beneath the KU stadium. He heard Saperstein offer Chamberlain one-third ownership of the Globetrotters if he signed with the team at that moment. Eavesdropping, Oerter heard the Dipper say he wasn't interested, at least not yet.

Chamberlain found his escape from Jim Crow segregation in Lawrence by driving to the vibrant African-American community in Kansas City, a city known in the 1930s as the Paris of the Plains. There, Maurice King, his lone black teammate at KU and a native of Kansas City, showed him the nightclubs along 18th and Vine, a street corner immortalized in song by Joe Turner as being where "The boys jump and swing until broad daylight." For the Dipper, Kansas City was a revelation. With King, he heard jazz jam sessions at nightclubs such as the Blue Room and El Capitan, played summer basketball games down the street at the Negro YMCA, and met former Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro baseball leagues Buck O'Neil, Satchel Paige, and Wilbur "Bullet" Rogan. He also met the colorful former Globetrotter Goose Tatum. King once had seen Tatum being chauffeured by his wife down 18th Street -- well, actually he saw only Tatum's bare feet sticking out the back of his convertible. As a kid, Chamberlain had idolized Tatum and relished the chance to know him. Tatum had a deft hook shot and, after converting one, was known to ask his opponent, "How'd you like that, young white boy?" He let the Dipper drive his car a few times, and together they made a trip to Detroit, Tatum's hometown.

At KU, Chamberlain briefly hosted his own radio show, "Flippin' with the Dipper," where he spun his favorite records, mostly jazz and the blues. (Years earlier, KU basketball star Clyde Lovellette had a show at the same radio station and played country music and was accompanied by Lester, his mythical hound dog.) King remembers that the Dipper's arrival challenged segregated practices at the movie theater and lunch counters in Lawrence. Before, King and his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers had been forced to sit in a section of the theater reserved for blacks. But when the Dipper joined the fraternity, "Nobody ever asked us to leave or refused us service," King would say. "They really wanted to cater to Wilt." Once, as Chamberlain drove along the new turnpike en route to Kansas City, a police car's flashing blue lights appeared behind his souped-up red and white Oldsmobile convertible. Sitting next to the Dipper, King tensed but only until the police officer, realizing it was Wilt Chamberlain's car, turned off his lights and drove away. Chamberlain would say often over the ensuing years, "I single-handedly integrated Kansas," and counted it among his proudest achievements. In truth, his was an integration of one. Because of his celebrity Chamberlain was granted honorary "white" status in Lawrence, but his actions did not diminish racial segregation there in any lasting way.

Hard as is it to believe, Chamberlain would live in New York that 1961-62 season and commute to Philadelphia as needed for practices and games with the Warriors, who themselves would move to San Francisco after that campaign. Part of the Pomerantz book also deals with Chamberlain’s Harlem nightclub of the day, Big Wilt’s Smalls Paradise, where The Dipper would host a variety of NBA counterparts and other celebrities that year, and to where he would motor in approximately 2 ½ hours from Hershey in a new Cadillac along with a Knicks counterpart, Willie Naulls, for more revelry and celebration into the wee hours of the morning after the 100-point game.

We particularly liked references to Wilt’s 1961-62 Warriors coach, Frank McGuire, who had made quite a name for himself as a college coach at St. John’s and North Carolina (and whose Tar Heels had beaten Wilt’s Kansas in triple OT in the 1957 NCAA title game) and would eventually win many more games at South Carolina into the ‘70s. Many hoop insiders have always believed the unique rapport Chamberlain developed with McGuire, and his respect for him, had something to do with those out-of-this-world stats posted by The Big Dipper in 1961-62, the only season in which McGuire would be his coach.

Pomerantz related particularly interesting tidbits regarding McGuire’s predecessor on the bench, Neil Johnston, a former Philadelphia star player-turned-coach, who never saw eye-to-eye with Chamberlain, and the Irishman’s ability to connect with The Big Dipper.

McGuire did his Wilt research carefully. His predecessor, Neil Johnston, had lost his job in large part because of his inability to get along with Chamberlain. During halftime of a game they would lose to Syracuse. Johnston had chastised Chamberlain in the locker room for not playing defense. “Wilt, Johnny (Kerr) has made five shots from the corner. Go out and get him. His name is Kerr.� Chamberlain snapped back. “My name in Chamberlain. I’ll go get him when I want to.� This exchange, carried out in front of his team, effectively neutered Johnston. McGuire heard about this and considered it a cautionary tale.

From Kansas, Coach Dick Harp had advised, “Wilt responds to leadership by someone he respects.� McGuire was coach of the North Carolina team that defeated Kansas and Chamberlain in the 1957 NCAA title game. McGuire had placed one player in front of Chamberlain, the rest in a zone designed to collapse around him whenever he touched the ball. He also tried a psychological ploy or two. He used five-foot-eleven guard Tommy Kearns for the opening jump against Chamberlain. Naturally, Wilt won the tap, but McGuire hoped to let the Dipper know he had a few tricks in his bag.

Now, as Warriors coach. McGuire spent considerable time with his star center, explaining himself and his expectations. McGuire determined to play him every minute of every game. He brought Chamberlain to his summer home at Greenwood Lake in New York. There, Wilt played with Frankie, McGuire’s 10-year-old son born with cerebral palsy. Chamberlain warmed quickly to his glib new coach. (Tom) Gola realized what was happening: All of the Dipper’s previous coaches had given orders to him as to what to do, but McGuire didn’t and Wilt responded to him. When McGuire suggested that Chamberlain, having missed 500 free throws the previous season, try shooting his foul shots underhanded, Chamberlain willingly tried it--and stayed with it. On another occasion, after an overtime loss in los Angeles, Gola saw the Dipper sitting in the locker room with football’s Roosevelt Grier, smoking a cigarette in clear violation of one of McGuire’s team rules. Wait’ll Frank sees this, Gola thought! Just then, McGuire apperared, walked past the Dipper. “Tough game, Wiltie,� McGuire said and kept walking without another word. The respect was mutual.

Pomerantz certainly spared no detail in the review of the magical game vs. the Knicks, which was preceded by an exhibition basketball game featuring members of the NFL Philadelphia Eagles (among them QB Sonny Jurgensen, RBs Timmy Brown and Clarence Peaks, and WR Tommy McDonald) and Baltimore Colts (whose intimidator in the post was 6'5" DE Gino Marchetti, who attended college at USF as did Bill Russell, a factoid he relayed to Wilt in a friendly pre-game chat). The Knicks-Warriors game was memorable beyond Wilt’s exploits, as it was also a then-record team and game-scoring-fest as well.

The final scoreline would read 169-147 in favor of Philadelphia! In addition to making 36 of 63 FG attempts, Wilt connected on a hard-to-believe (especially for Chamberlain) 28 of 32 free-throw attempts, while also pulling down 25 rebounds. Not surprisingly, Warriors guard Guy Rodgers would have 20 assists that night. Remarkably, four other Philadelphia players scored in double digits, including Rodgers’ 16 points and 17 by fellow guard Al Attles. Three Knicks would score 30+ points as well, including 39 by All-Star G Richie Guerin, 33 from 6-8 forward Cleveland Buckner, and 31 more from the aforementioned forward and Wilt friend, Willie Naulls. Pomerantz was also able to find a handful of fans who attended the game, including a chap named Kerry Ryman who claimed to have the ball that Wilt used to score his record 100. Ryman, a 14-year-old at the time of the game, claims he made off with the ball at the end of the game, although that remains a point of some conjecture. (Interestingly, while alive, Wilt had never shown much interest in that Ryman ball or any ball that might have been the one used to score his 100th point; he had once been offered the Ryman ball and told Ryman to keep it). Those doubts reduced the amount of money Ryman would receive from his eventual sale of the ball in 2000 after Wilt’s death; an original $551,884 bid for the ball was amended after doubts of its authenticity arose, and a subsequent bid of $67,791 was accepted. There will likely never be any definitive word on whether the Ryman ball is the original.

While no video or film footage exists of the game, there is original surviving audio from the actual WCAU Philadelphia radio broadcast of that memorable record-breaking night by Chamberlain. The call by legendary play-by-play broadcaster Bill Campbell, still alive and active today at 90 years old, and described by Pomerantz as “having a big voice, deep, full, and so smooth one listener was convinced he gargled before each broadcast with Turtle Wax,� can be accessed at a fascinating website (www.randomhouse.com/crown/wilt) developed by Random House, publisher of the Wilt, 1962 book by Pomerantz. Audio of the entire fourth quarter is available on the website, complete with notation of each of the 31 points scored by Wilt in the final stanza. It makes for a compelling audio companion to the book.

Listeners to the website can jump to any of Wilt’s scores in the final quarter, including the sequence leading up to Chamberlain’s 100th point with 46 seconds left to play. Prior to hitting the inconceivable century mark, Wilt had missed two shots on the same possession, first after being fed a near length-of-the-court pass by Guy Rodgers. After both Chamberlain misses, U of Houston rookie Ted Luckenbill rebounded the shots, and after the second carom he passed to teammate Joe Ruklick, who, sensing that Knicks G Guerin would likely foul him to prevent Wilt from scoring again, quickly fired the ball in the post to Chamberlain, who had bumped away from Buckner and barked “Woo!� to signal he was open. Ruklick passed perfectly, high and into the middle, which the Dipper caught in front of the basket, only inches away, and rose high above the surrounding Knicks and the rim as Campbell energized, “He made it! He made it! A Dipper Dunk!�

While the Chamberlain legend is a tall task for any author, Pomerantz certainly hits the mark on many aspects of the Big Dipper, and certainly all that relates to Wilt’s 100-point game. It is arguably one of the best and most readable of the several Chamberlain books to have hit the marketplace, not to mention one of the best narratives about the earlier days of life in the NBA. Wilt, 1962 is still available at most bookstores, and can also be purchased online at amazon.com.

Following is a quick conference review of current NBA team-by-team pointspread and “totals� trends thru games of December 25.

EASTERN CONFERENCE: Atlanta...Hawks “over� last 6 and 10-1 last 11. Boston...Celtics “under� 11-3 last 14 away. Brooklyn...Nets 5-12 as chalk. Charlotte...Bobcats 10-1 as road dog, also “under� 12-4 at Time Warner Cable Arena. Chicago...Bulls 4-12 as chalk. Cleveland...Cavs 1-9 as favorite. Detroit...Pistons “over� last 10 and 23-7 this season; also won and covered last three on road.

Indiana...Pacers 11-3 away, also “under� 11-3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Miami...Heat 6-10 as home chalk, 3-9 laying 9 ½ or more at AmericanAirlines Arena. Milwaukee...Bucks 4-10 at home. New York...Knicks 3-12 at Madison Square Garden and 4-10 overall as dog; also “over� 10-5 at home. Orlando...Magic 1-6 as chalk, 9-5 as road dog. Philadelphia...Skidding Sixers 2-11 last 13, also 3-16 SU last 19. Toronto...Raptors 3-9 at home but 9-5 on road. Washington...Wizards have covered last four away, also “over� last five.

WESTERN CONFERENCE: Dallas...Mavs “over� last 5 and 7 of last 8. Denver...Nuggets no covers last four; “under� last 8 and 10 of last 11. Golden State...Warriors “under� 11-5 away. Houston...Rockets “over� 10-5 on road. LA Clippers...Clips 8-5 as home chalk. LA Lakers...Lake Show 10-4 as home, also “under� last five. Memphis...Grizzlies 9-18 overall, 4-12 at FedEx Forum.

Minnesota...T-wolves have covered back-to-back games just once since Nov. 13. New Orleans...Hornets “over� 13-6 last 19; also streaky, only a single one-game cover streak since Nov. 6. Oklahoma City...Thunder 8-2 as road chalk. Phoenix...Suns 10-3 away, also 13-5 as dog and “over� 9-4 at US Airways Center. Portland...No covers last four, also “over� last 6 and 12 of last 13. Sacramento...Kings 1-7 as pick or home chalk; also “over� 9-2 last 11. San Antonio...Spurs 10-5 away and 9-4 as road chalk; also “over� 5-1 last six. Utah...Jazz no covers last four in Salt Lake City.

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