This Day In Sports: Wilt The Stilt opts for the ‘Trotters

May 23, 1958: Wilt Chamberlain passes on his senior year at Kansas—but not to go to the NBA, which wouldn’t allow him to play in the league until his college class graduated.Chamberlain thus signed with the Harlem Globetrotters and toured with them for a year before joining the Philadelphia Warriors. He signed with the famed team for the then unheard-of basketball salary of $50,000 for the 1958-59 season. Once the Globetrotters had Chamberlain, they hit their zenith.

Chamberlain was a member of the first-ever Globetrotters team to play in Moscow, Russia, in 1959. The team had executed a sold-out tour of the USSR, and prior to the start of a game at Moscow’s Lenin Central Stadium, the Globetrotters were greeted by General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. For a few days, at least, the Cold War thawed. Chamberlain was posthumously honored by the Globetrotters on March 9, 2000, when the team made him the first player in its history to have his jersey retired (No. 13) and inducted him into its “Legends” Ring.

Once he was eligible for the NBA, he signed with the Warriors in 1959. In his debut against the New York Knicks, Chamberlain scored 43 points and pulled down 28 rebounds. You can bet that was an omen. The dominating 7-1 center went on to become the only NBA player ever to score 100 points in a game and the only one to average 50 points—or even 40 points—per game in a season. Chamberlain won seven NBA scoring titles and 11 rebounding crowns and still holds 72 NBA records.

During his NBA career, Chamberlain’s dominance spurred a number of rule changes, including widening the lane (the key really did used to be shaped like a key), creating an offensive goaltending rule and revising rules at the charity stripe. The latter was designed to stop Chamberlain’s habit of leaping from behind the free throw line and laying the ball in the basket. After that, Chamberlain would shoot free throws underhanded, often at a painfully low percentage. But during his 100-point game, he set an NBA record with 28 made free throws, all of them underhanded.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *