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Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game: 50 years later, still a marvel

Recalling the Big Dipper's mythmaking performance for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962. Will the mark ever be broken?

March 01, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • Basketball great Wilt Chamberlain is congratulated by teammates and fans after scoring his 100th point in the Philadelphia Warriors' 169-147 victory over the New York Knicks on March 2, 1962.
Basketball great Wilt Chamberlain is congratulated by teammates and fans… (Paul Vathis / Associated…)

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.

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