Ask any basketball fan who the greatest player of all time is. Probably 95% will say Michael Jordan, a few may say Lebron James, while others mention players like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson or others. Sure it’s hard to compare eras, but very few will give the answer, Wilt the Stilt.
Stat-wise though, nobody will ever come close to the numbers Wilt Chamberlain put up in his prime. Wilt famously dropped 100 points in an NBA game, a record that still stands today.
These days it’s impressive when you watch a game or look at a box-score and see that a player scored 50 – Wilt once averaged over 50 points per game for an entire season, with a 50.4ppg average back in 1961.
When a player like Andre Drummond gets 20 rebounds in a game it’s pretty big. When they get 25 rebs it’s like whoa, when they get 30 boards in a game that would be seen as something very special. Wilt once had 55 rebounds in a single game (playing against the Celtics and their HOF’er big-man Bill Russell, no less). Through his first 2 seasons in the NBA, Wilt averaged 27.1 rebounds per game.
By the end of his 4th season in the NBA, Wilt’s career averages were 42.9ppg and 26.0rpg through 311 games.
To put it bluntly, if this guy was playing and putting up these numbers today, NBA Fantasy Leagues would be completely pointless because whoever landed the 1st pick would take out the competition.
Unfortunately for us that love our NBA stats, they didn’t record steals or blocks back then, otherwise he would have no doubt been putting up gaudy defensive lines as well. In fact, when game footage from archives of his games was analysed, Chamberlain averaged a whopping 8.8 blocks per game in the 112 games that they checked and recorded stats for. That’s not a typo….. eight – point – eight!
The NBA’s all-time leaders since they started counting swats?
- Mark Eaton (3.50)
- Manute Bol (3.34)
- Hakeem Olajuwon (3.09)
- David Robinson (2.99)
- Elmore Smith (2.90)
- Alonzo Mourning (2.81)
- Dikembe Mutombo (2.75)
- Kareem Abdul Jabbar (2.57)
- Shawn Bradley (2.55)
- George Johnson (2.46)
This past season before coronavirus shut things down, Hassan Whiteside was leading the league at 3.1 blocks per game, the unibrow Anthony Davis was on 2.4bpg, and Rudy Gobert was averaging 2.0bpg. What makes the 8.8 blocks stat even more remarkable is when you factor in that Wilt never fouled out of a single game in his 14 year playing career.
Not only could Wilt dominate defensively by blocking shots, and putting the ball through the hoop more prolifically than anyone else the game has ever seen, he even led the league in assists as a 31 year old centre for the LA Lakers. In that 1967-68 season, Wilt averaged 24.3ppg, 23.8rpg and 8.6apg. In that same season Wilt had an historically good all-around single game, finishing with 22 points, 25 rebounds, 21 assists and 12 blocks.
Take a look at Wilt’s 1961-62 season game log: look at how many games he put up over 50 points and 30 rebounds in the same game. If Anthony Davis or Karl Anthony Towns were to put up a line like that today it would be considered amongst their career-best games. He did it at least a dozen times in that regular season, including one more in the playoffs in their series clinching win over Syracuse.
There are stories that Wilt, despite being a 7’1” monster, possessed a 50” vertical leap, could touch the top of the backboard, could put the ball under his armpit, leap up and punch it through the hoop with his other hand, and as a freshman in college, he had a way to make sure he wouldn’t miss his free throws, he’d take a few steps from the top of the key and dunk from behind the free throw line, he didn’t attempt it in games, but they changed the rules to stop him from doing it.
Wilt truly dominated the game statistically during his era and set so many records that will never be beaten, including an unofficial one that he slept with over 20,000 women during his playing career!
Part of what makes these GOAT debates so difficult is trying to compare Wilt to players of a different generation that he never played against. Sure, the league was different back then, but at the same time, if it was so easy to put up ridiculous lines why was Wilt the only one able to do it?
Looking at the 1961-62 season’s other top scorers, the 2nd leading scorer behind Wilt and his 50.4ppg was HOF’er Walt Bellamy. He averaged 31.6ppg, and didn’t have a single 50+ performance that season. The 3rd leading scorer Bob Pettit had a single 50+ point game scoring 51 against Philly. 4th that season was NBA legend Oscar Robertson, who didn’t eclipse the 50-point mark once that season.
Wilt’s naysayers would have us believe he was entirely a product of his generation, but the closest thing we have had to Wilt in the modern NBA it maybe Shaq or Dwight Howard in terms of dominant size or athletic ability in a 7-footer, Wilt seemed to combine the best of both.
Look at these clips of Wilt taking down shots mid-air, they’re grainy but you get an idea of what he was able to do back then:
Wilt is arguably the strongest player ever to play in the NBA as well. When filming Conan the Destroyer with Arnold Schwartzeneggar, Arnie later said “he lifted me up with 1 arm like nothing, so powerful” and that he was doing tricep lifts with bigger weights than professional bodybuilders.
Watch as Wilt in his 50’s shakes the hand of a young Shaquille O’Neal, as one top commenter astutely points out: “The title should be: Wilt Chamberlain shakes Shaq with his hand…” lol
Personally speaking, I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s watching MJ in his prime, to me, MJ will always be the GOAT. He was a superstar on and off the court, unstoppable on offense and a clamp on the defensive end. He had no holes in his game, and his competitive drive forced him to win at all costs. Watching the Chicago Bulls documentary The Last Dance has been an entertaining reminder of just how good MJ was, and has given all basketball fans something to legitimately look forward to on Monday nights during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Lebron has done some amazing things, particularly the way he led the Cavs against the Warriors in the finals and was able to make a series of it even in the year Kyrie Irving got hurt, doing some amazing things even in the years that the Cavs lost. He’s managed to stay at the peak of the NBA even when all other players in his 03-04 draft class are either retired or on a severe decline in their NBA careers. It is almost superhuman the way he has been able to do that.
As good as Lebron has been though, Wilt the Stilt is the one that deserves his spot in the GOAT debate for all the reasons outlined above. Maybe more rings would have cemented Wilt’s position more amongst his peers in this conversation, but I don’t think that alone should determine who the greatest of all time is in a team sport like basketball. If it was we would be putting Robert Horry and Bob Cousy in the GOAT conversation.
Whether it was due to the Celtics dominating his era, or not having the right teammates around him to get over the line and win more championships, Wilt’s individual play and how he dominated the league in a way that will never be seen again puts him in my top 3 all time.
Where does Wilt rank for you and do you think he has a legit case for being the greatest ever? Comment on our social media pages with your pick!
Written by Peter Arena