Wilt Chamberlain (13) in action vs. New York Knicks in the 1973 NBA Finals. (Getty Images)
We all love underdogs. Our biggest stories and legends have, at their origin, some overwhelming hypnagogic adventure wherein the misunderstood, the vilified, the downcast, the overlooked, the neglected or the brushed off stands up and does the inconceivable.
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We loved it when Rocky took the beating that may seem rationally and humanly impossible, and still somehow manage to stand up and deliver the knock-out punches to the likes of Apollo, Ivan Drago, James “Clubber” Lang and Tommy Gunn. People still rave about the 1980 Men’s US Hockey team that managed to do the “Miracle on Ice” and beat the indomitable Russians.
Be it in real or in audacious acts of fiction, we love the underdogs for their overwhelming show of desire; their fight and spirit against the most hypnagogic and daunting obstacles. They make for great inspirational stories, something that people look up to in the doldrums of fear, despair, despondency or anguish.
While, I do get the human emotional need to cherish the underdog and may be guilty of doing the same on numerous occasions, I would like to sit back and reflect on a man who suffered because he was always the over-dog.
The man who in many ways defined size in the game of basketball; he changed the game and forced the league to change the rules of the game, so as to prevent him from nonchalantly making a mockery of grown-up professionals.
A man, who despite all his exploits and legendary domination, still finds the limelight slightly lost in the spangle of the Championships that his nemesis, greatest rival and surprisingly good friend, Bill Russell won against him. The man who for many savants and fans still remains the greatest big man to ever play the game: Wilton Norman Chamberlain.
Now, I could talk about how great Chamberlain was as a player and mention his stats and records, but it is so expansive a resume that it seems idiotic to even bother. For all those who may still doubt the same, Chamberlain averaged over 50 points and 25 rebounds in a season.
Compare that to a certain Dwight Howard, who is celebrated for getting 12 rebounds or a Kevin Durant for getting 28 points and you will get to see the finer picture. Now, I’m not being audacious enough to compare D12 and KD with Chamberlain, because the game of basketball has evolved a lot since Chamberlain and Russell graced the league, but it still does put some things into perspective.
Add to that the fact that he managed to score 31,419 points and grab 23,924 rebounds, while averaging 30.07 ppg and 22.9 rpg and having the strength and the durability to play for over 45 minutes every night all throughout his career, it just makes adjectives and adulations seem petty.
Chamberlain wrote himself into the history books in 1962, when he scored 100 points for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks, with the Warriors winning 169-147 due to his heroics.
Chamberlain was as genuine a player as one can think of; somebody who blocked shots, won the battle of the boards, imposed his size and skill and did all of this in a way that left many people shocked and dumb-founded.
A particular incident just corroborates his superfluous impact on the game. In a match against the Warriors, Lennie Wilkins of the St. Louis Hawks found himself in a one-on-one break with Chamberlain. Sagaciously, Lennie launched a floater and when the ball was around 3-feet above the basket, Chamberlain soared up and just grabbed the ball in mid-air with one hand.
Now, one needs to understand that it is still the time when the league hadn’t fathomed rules like offensive and defensive goal-tending. Even then the referee couldn’t help but blow the whistle in bewilderment and shock. When questioned about the call, he just blurted out, “what I saw is not humanly possible.”