It’s a posthumous birthday note for Wilt Chamberlain today, the would-be 76th celebration for the greatest statistical player in NBA history. His 100-point game, the 12 straight seasons averaging at least 21 rebounds per game and a 50.4 points per game average in 1961-62 are the kind of accomplishments that are still unfathomable, even if you’re not surprised for a 7-footer in that early era of pro basketball. His legacy goes beyond the stat lines and the infamous 20,000 women claim, though. When he died in 1999 he had seen the NBA-player-as-endorser role that he helped pioneer become the rule, not the exception. Michael Jordan entered the NBA five years after Wilt was inducted into the Hall of Fame and retired as a Bull a year before his death. That career took Wilt’s own blueprint and pumped a whole lot of Nike Air into it.
Jordan, however, was nowhere near as varied a salesman with only a handful of blue-chip endorsements to his name for most of his career on and off the court. Chamberlain, like his prolific stat lines, represented everything from underwear to cars to laxatives and light beer. Maybe that’s partly attributed to the fact having only a few endorsements in the 1960s and 1970s could not sustain a paycheck the likes of which Jordan’s deals could. Or maybe it was just Wilt’s personality, mirroring his varied interests such as film, track and field, beach volleyball and business. Either way, it’s left us with a wealth of ads he’s appeared in. On the Stilt’s birthday, here’s a look at his best ads.
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10. BVD UNDERWEAR
Wilt has a bit part in this ad for underwear, saying his underwear makes him more intimidating. OK, Wilt. It’s easy to see it as a funny ad for underwear, but Wilt was again ahead of the curve with the underwear endorsement. Would MJ have done Hanes if other celebrities hadn’t shilled for them first?
Shaquille O’Neal hadn’t yet entered the pantheon of great big men such as Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1993. Only by walking through a time warp front door, breaking a backboard and cleaning up the mess can Shaq join the greats in this Reebok spot. Wilt doesn’t have any lines, which limits any “cool” factor associated with the ad. Every big man gets some kind of screen time, whether Kareem and Russell’s lines or Walton’s mock indignation. Wilt gets the punchline by offering up a broom and pan for Shaq to clean with.