By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – I watched and listened to almost all of the coverage I possibly could last week about the 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game. I joked, while I was on the air, that part of me doesn’t even believe it happened. Every part of it, from the lengths that the Knicks went to stop it, to the fact that he took 63 shots, is unfathomable.
When people who saw Wilt Chamberlain play, who played with Wilt Chamberlain, talk about him, it’s with a sense of wonder. A physical specimen like they’d never seen. He was unstoppable. He did things on the court that no one had ever imagine. He changed the game. They changed the rules for him.
Any time the “who is the greatest player of all time” debate comes along, and I say Michael Jordan, someone who saw Wilt will tell me that I just don’t understand. I’ll point to Jordan’s refusal to lose, and ask why Chamberlain didn’t win more rings. Eventually it will come back to the fact that he just didn’t have the talent around him. That it wasn’t Wilt, it was the situation he was in. I just don’t understand. He was the greatest.
When I am 75 years old, I will tell my grandchildren (or if I never have any, just some random neighborhood kids) about a basketball player who was unlike any other I have ever seen. A man whose skills and size were a match I didn’t really imagine ever possible.
He was six feet, eight inches tall, and 275 pounds. Not a speck of fat on him. He was strong as anyone, but as quick as anyone as well. Jumped higher, ran faster, dunked harder. He could dribble like a point guard, and dunk like a hulking power forward. He was John Stockton meets Shawn Kemp meets Julius Erving. A passer, a scorer score, a rebounder and a defender. He did it all, and he did it all at an elite level.
Then they’ll look at me and ask me why he didn’t win more championships. If no one could stop him, why didn’t he just impose his will on the game? I won’t be sure how to answer, but I’m sure I’ll mention how he spent the first half of his career playing with nobodies. He eventually got a good team around him, and after some trials and tribulations, he won a couple.
The way I talk about Lebron James, seems a lot like the way they talk about Wilt Chamberlain.
I’m not saying Lebron James is as great a Wilt Chamberlain. I never saw Wilt play, but the numbers speak for themselves.
I am saying their stories are similar, and time will provide great perspective.
It also makes me wonder what Chamberlain’s career would have been like if he faced the kind of real-time, 24/7, scrutiny that James faces today.