Wilt Chamberlain retired following the 1972-1973 season, some 13 years before I was born. Yet, while never having the opportunity to see “The Big Dipper” take one dribble live and in person, there’s one feature I do know about him. Something I’ve seen secondhand via interviews, books, and accounts from people who grew up following his game. Wilt Chamberlain was the most enigmatic, larger-than-life mega-celebrity, maybe, ever. He was the same man who led the league in scoring and then turned around and led the league in assists simply to prove a point. He was someone who was painted his entire career as a player virtually unstoppable, yet a team cancer. For every 10 positive traits about Wilt The Stilt, there were probaly four or five negatives following suit.
The man who put up stat lines even Jordan himself could only ponder was an introvert. Not only that, but he was an introvert placed in a body and an icon in a sport which seemingly prasies the opposite. In 1987, Wilt sat down with Roy Firestone for an interview that revealed far more than what his playing days were like. Instead, it was an examination of Chamberlain himself. It was like one of those operations where doctors perform a surgery in front of a classroom full of medical students. Only this time, Wilt was the doctor and the patient.
Firestone’s open-ended questions laid a platform for the very eloquently-spoken Chamberlain to paint a picture of himself with his own brush. A good chunk of what was revealed was information I’ve heard over the years, but managed to hit home with a different delivery. And on the same accord, there’s revelations foreign to myself. For example, Wilt opens up in regards to:
The centers of the 1980s. Often criticized saying he dominated in an era where Bill Russell was his only true competition, hearing Wilt speak on the centers of the ’80s was amazing. And how he defined them was even crazier. If he said that about the Kareems, Olajuwons, Malones and Sampsons of the world, imagine what he’d say in 2012.
Russell and Kareem. Speaking of centers, his friendship and semi-animosity with two of the game’s greatest titans is discussed. The falling out with Bill Russell has been well publicized from the controversial ending of Game 7 of the 1969 Finals and Russell’s comments years later. With Kareem, however, this was pretty much all untrodden territory for me besides the fact Wilt did, in fact, hold some resentment to his Lakers big man neophyte.
His Republican ties. Some people know this. Some don’t. Wilt Chamberlain was a Republican, and often came under attack because of such. With this tidbit in mind, pondering how he and Stacey Dash would get along had he been around today is an article in and of itself. On second thought, nevermind. It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out exactly how their commonality would end. Ironically though, Ronald Reagan wasn’t one of his favorite people. So there’s your similarity between Wilt and Killer Mike.
His love life. Maybe not a “joke” in the literal sense, but beyond the number most commonly associated with him (20,000 women!), Wilt travels in depth as to why he never settled down. Coinciding with that, he reveals his biggest fear – one proving eeriely prophetic given his death some 12 years later.
The perfect woman. “One who is intelligent. One who laughs a lot at herself and other people. One who enjoys a great deal of sex. And one who can really cook.” That’s all it took to win Wilt’s heart.
Above and beyond, the 15 minute clip is well worth the investment of clicking play. Wilt loved life, but the fact he never won “more” also plauged him and sits like an elephant in the room for portions of the interview. Basketball nerds will get a kick out of stuff like this. It’s a learning tool and a peak into the game’s storied past, but more than anything, it represents an icon doing something very rarely seen.
No gimmicks. Without P.R.-contrived answers. Sans layup questions. Wilt Chamberlain was the same way he had been his entire life. Himself.