Friday, March 2, 2012

A Hundred Points The Hard Way

I don't ordinarily write about basketball.

It was never my sport when I was growing up. I had more interest in baseball and football.

And, in the hierarchy of basketball, pro basketball is the low man on the totem pole for me. I like college and high school basketball much better.

Even in my teen years, I preferred college basketball — my alma mater, the University of Arkansas, was always in the national tournament so I could usually count on being able to watch them play during spring break.

My high school team was pretty good — went undefeated and won the state title when I was a sophomore.

But, for awhile, when I was about 12 or 13, I was a bit of an NBA fan.

One of the stars at that time was Wilt Chamberlain. Actually, he was nearing the end of his career by that time; a young Lew Alcindor (soon to be known as Kareem Abdul–Jabbar) was emerging as his successor as the league's superstar.

But many years earlier, Chamberlain had chiseled his name into the NBA record books with an achievement that I think is not likely to be matched.

I'm talking about the day 50 years ago today when Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single game.

Basketball fans are accustomed to games in which one, if not both, of the teams scores 100 points or more. But the scoring usually is spread out. Even Michael Jordan — who made many of the most amazing shots anyone will ever see — didn't score 100 points in a single game.

And Jordan had the advantage of being able to shoot for three points. The three–point shot was still several years in the future when Chamberlain retired.

So has Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 points in a game in 2006, and, as Ryan Rothschild observes in Sports Illustrated, Bryant scored seven three–pointers — and he still came up 19 points short of Chamberlain.

Rothschild writes that it is "a record that seems all but unbreakable." I'm inclined to agree.

Because of his height (7'1"), Chamberlain was known as "Wilt the Stilt" and "Goliath" by many, but his favorite nickname was "The Big Dipper," and that is the name that always comes to mind for me when I think of Chamberlain because, in my mind's eye, I can see him dunking the ball repeatedly as he towered over nearly everyone he faced.

Alcindor was really the first player he encountered in his NBA career who could look him in the eye, you might say — and that was one of the reasons why Chamberlain scored so many points in that game and others. Seven–footers are commonplace in the NBA today, but they were rare in 1962.

Chamberlain also scored so many points because his team, the then–Philadelphia Warriors, permitted him to keep going to the basket long after the issue had been decided, in large part to see if he could score 100 points.

It also seems likely to me that a 21st century coach, faced with the same situation, probably would not allow his star player(s) to continue playing once the game was out of reach for the opposition — even if he wanted to see if his star could surpass Chamberlain.

But I think that record will remain on the books for a long, long time.

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