Wilt Scores 100

On this date in 1962, Wilton Norman Chamberlain set the single-game NBA scoring record by scoring 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors in a 169-147 win over the New York Knicks.

Chamberlain was in his third season in the NBA, having set season scoring records in each of his first two years in the league.  On March 2, the Warriors were playing their 76th game of the season, and the 7’-1”, 260 pound center had missed only eight-and-a-half minutes that entire year.  In three earlier games that week, Chamberlain had scored 67, 65 and 61 points, giving him a record 15 games in which he scored 60 or more points.  No player in NBA history had ever scored 3,000 points in a season, yet, heading into the game, Chamberlain was only 237 points shy of 4,000 for the year.  Earlier in the season, Wilt set a new NBA record by scoring 78 points in a game against the Los Angeles Lakers.  In high school, Chamberlain had scored 90 points while leading Philadelphia’s Overbrook High School to a 123-21 victory, prompting the Philadelphia Inquirer to write, “Chamberlain might have hit 100 if he had played the entire 32 minutes.”

In the early 1960s, the NBA was not popular, occasionally playing games in remote towns in order to attract new fans and this early March game was played at Hershey Sports Arena, and old gym built for ice hockey.  On a cold, rainy Friday night with only five games remaining in the season, the Warriors—who were in second place, eleven games behind the Boston Celtics—took on the last-place Knicks before 4,124 spectators.  Chamberlain had spent the night before the game in New York City, partying all night with a female companion before dropping her off at home at 6:00 am.  Tired and hungover, he boarded the train to Philadelphia and nearly missed the team bus for the 85 mile ride to Hershey.  There was little interest in the game that night, as no members from the New York press were present and only two photographers were at the game.  Most of the fans in attendance had come to see the Philadelphia Eagles take on the Baltimore Colts in an exhibition basketball game before the NBA game started.

After jumping out to a 19-3 lead, the Warriors were on top, 42-26, at the end of the first quarter, and Chamberlain had 23 points. By halftime,  6’10” Darrall Imhoff, who had been guarding Chamberlain, was in foul trouble, leaving Dave Budd—the Knicks’ third-string center—to cover the “Big Dipper”.  Philadelphia led at intermission, 79-68.  Warriors guard Guy Rodgers, who would hand out 20 assists in the game, said at halftime, “Let’s get the ball to Dip.  Let’s see how many he can get.”  Warriors coach Frank McGuire agreed and Chamberlain, who finished the first half with 41 points, was unstoppable in the third quarter, scoring 28 points to lift the Warriors to a commanding 125-106 lead.  Public address announcer Dave Zinkoff began announcing Chamberlain’s point total after each of his baskets, stirring the small crowd into a frenzy.  With eight minutes remaining, Chamberlain needed 25 points to reach 100, a rate equivalent to 150 points in a full game.  After scoring his 79th point [breaking his own record] with 7:51 left, the crowd screamed, “Give it to Wilt!  Give it to Wilt!” prompting Chamberlain to think, “Man, these people are tough.  I’m tired.  I’ve got 80 points and no one has ever scored 80.”  Philadelphia was passing the ball to Wilt on every possession and the Knicks, who were well behind, began to employ delay tactics to keep him from scoring—passing up open shots and intentionally fouling any player but Chamberlain in order to keep the ball out of the big man’s hands.  With 2:12 left, “The Stilt” scored his 96th point on a fadeaway jumper, then scored his next basket at 1:19 with a powerful dunk.  In the final minute, Chamberlain missed a close shot, got the rebound, and missed again.  Forward Ted Luckenbill grabbed the rebound, declined an easy layup and instead lobbed an alley-oop pass to The Dipper, who stuffed it in for his 100th point with 46 seconds remaining.  The arena exploded as over 200 fans stormed the floor, resulting in a nine minute interruption before play could be resumed.  Chamberlain remained still in the center of the floor for the final seconds, not wanting to touch the ball because, “100 sounded better than 102.”  When the two teams played again two nights later in New York’s Madison Square Garden [Daily Dose, December 15], Darrall Imhoff got a standing ovation for “holding” Chamberlain to 58 points.

Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50.2 points and 25.7 rebounds per game in 1962, both NBA records.  His 100 point game is considered one of the greatest achievements in sports history and tops the list of “records likely never to be broken.”  Only four players in NBA history have scored 60 or more points on more than one occasion.  Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did it five times each and the great Elgin Baylor did it four times.  Wilton Norman Chamberlain scored 60 or more points 32 times in his Hall of Fame career.  Chamberlain was an extraordinary athlete–starring in basketball, track in college and pro volleyball after retiring from the NBA–but he was a poor free-throw shooter, averaging just over 50 percent from the foul line in his career.  In his third NBA season, he was so desperate that he took to shooting free throws underhand.  On March 2, 1962, Mr. Chamberlain made 36 field goals in 63 attempts.  What may be more impressive was his free throw shooting that evening, going 28 of 32 from the line for a percentage of .875.  The Big Dipper retired in 1973 as the NBA’s all-time scoring leader.  He is the first player in pro basketball history to score over 30,000 points and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978.  Mr. Chamberlain died in Bel-Air, California in 1999.

“People heard about Wilt scoring 100, averaging 50 a night, and they wanted to see the guy do it…I believe Wilt Chamberlain single-handedly saved the league.”
– Oscar Robertson