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Charley Rosen Remembers Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-Point Game

Paul Vathis/Associated Press

On March 2, 1962, Wilton Norman Chamberlain set an NBA record that will never be surpassed. That’s when, in a game witnessed by a mere 1,124 fans in Hershey, PA, Wilt tallied 100 points as his Philadelphia Warriors trounced the New York Knicks by the absurd score of 169-147.

To further embarrass the Knicks, it was widely (and erroneously) reported that Wilt was drunk when he stepped on the court. But his only pregame activity had been to win a lot of money playing the slot machines. And in his usual jocular (and often sober) fashion, he’d told his teammates that he was feeling lucky.

Lucky, indeed, that the Warriors were finishing up a 49-31 season — the third-best in the league — and were primed to challenge (unsuccessfully) the Boston Celtics’ stranglehold on the championship.

Lucky, too, that the Knicks were a sad-sack club, destined to finish the season at 29-51.

Perhaps, Chamberlain was likewise fortunate that New York’s starting center — 6-10 Phil Jordan — was unavailable because of “the flu.” In truth, it was Jordan who’d been drinking and was too hungover to play. That left 6-10 Darrall Imhoff to face Wilt for the opening tip.

After Imhoff was whistled for fouling Chamberlain three times in the first 10 minutes, he said this to referee Willie Smith: “Why don’t you just give Wilt a hundred points and we can all go home early?”

With Imhoff forced to the bench, the 7-1, 280-pound Chamberlain was defended first by Cleveland Buckner, a 6-8, 190-pound small forward, then by Dave Budd, a 6-6 swingman.

For the game, Wilt was 36-63 from the field and a most amazing 28-32 from the foul line. Amazing because Chamberlain was barely above a lifetime 50 percent shooter from the stripe. But Imhoff offered an explanation for Wilt’s uncharacteristic free throw accuracy: “The rims were sewers. They were even softer than the softest rims in the league at Madison Square Garden.”

The game was a blowout from tip to buzzer, so Chamberlain’s teammates focused their game plan on helping him score as many points as possible. To accomplish this, they tried to intentionally foul the Knicks every time the visitors inbounded the ball, then when they were on offense they passed up wide open shots to simply feed The Big Dipper.

The Knicks, of course, understood what was happening, so they attempted to freeze the ball for the full 24 seconds. In the fourth quarter, the action on one end of the court consisted of how long New York could maintain possession before one of the Warriors could chase down a ball-handler and hack him.

Eddie Donovan, the Knicks coach, later said that the game was “a farce.” And Richie Guerin, a future Hall of Famer who was the Knicks’ high scorer with 29.5 points per game, was so bitter that he refused to talk publicly about the game.

Here’s Imhoff again: “The whole thing was ridiculous, and everybody in the Knicks’ organization was outraged.”

As for Chamberlain, all he could do was shrug and say that it was his teammates’ decision to keep putting the ball in his hands.

The sheer enormity of Wilt’s feat — and the fact that he scored 50.4 points per game that season — has also been downgraded by those who claim that he was never opposed by any truly talented big men. Forgetting that Chamberlain’s opponents included the likes of Bill Russell, Bob Lanier, Nate Thurmond and — later in his career — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

So if Wilt’s single-triple was somewhat tarnished, it still remains as an unbeatable and colossal achievement by a colossal player.

And Imhoff provided a postscript to the 100-point game: “We played Philadelphia two nights later in New York and Wilt was out to score a hundred again. Phil Jordan was still out, so I played 46 minutes and really busted my tail. I tried to deny Wilt, I fronted him, I three-quartered him, I did everything. I fouled out with two minutes left in the game having held Wilt to 54 points. When I headed to the bench, I got my first and only NBA standing ovation.”

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