Wilt Chamberlain's Stats Don't Seem Real Today
Wilt Chamberlain was a mythical figure. For good reason. Standing 7-foot-1 and weighing almost 300 pounds, he was one of the greatest players in NBA history and a pop culture icon.
Now, over 20 years after his death in 1999 and almost 50 years since the end of his playing career in 1973, we're still trying to unravel the myths from the truth. What are the tall tales and what's true?
These are the facts about the Wilt Chamberlain stats, from his mind-blowing numbers to his larger-than-life persona outside of basketball.
The NBA Record Book Still Belongs to Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain hasn't played an NBA game since 1973 yet still owns 46 NBA records — meaning he still owns the NBA record book to some extent.
Here are some of Wilt's records that will probably never be broken:
-Most career minutes per game (45.8)
-Most career rebounds per game (22.9)
-Most points per game in a season (50.4)
-Most points in a season (4,029)
-Most point in a single game (100)
-Most 50-point games in a single season (45)
-Most 40-point games in a single season (63)
-Most points in a single half (59)
-Most career regular-season 50-point games (118)
-Most career regular-season 40-point games (271)
-Most consecutive 50-point games (7)
-Most consecutive 40-point games (14)
-Most points per game for a rookie (37.6)
Track Was Chamberlain’s First Love
Wilt Chamberlain was born on Aug. 21, 1936, in Philadelphia to a working-class family. His mother, Olivia, was a stay-at-home-mom and his father, William, was a welder, custodian and general handyman.
Wilt was so sick as a child with pneumonia that he missed an entire year of school, but when he recovered he was drawn to sports. Just not basketball.
Wilt loved track and field, and excelled in throws, jumps and sprints, but in a city where basketball was king, he was quickly drawn to the sport. At 10 years old, he was already 6-feet tall and was 6-foot-11 by the time he entered Overbrook High School.
Meet the Philly Hoops Prodigy
In the summer of 1953, famed Boston Celtics coach Red Auerbach set up a one-on-one game between two young men working at Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club in the Catskills — 1953 NCAA Finals Most Outstanding Player B.H. Born of the University of Kansas and Overbrook High School junior Wilt Chamberlain.
Chamberlain won, 25-10, which shook Born so much he turned his back on an NBA career and quit basketball altogether.
The hurt put on opposing high school players by Chamberlain, who was now 7-foot-1, was much worse. He averaged 37.4 points over three seasons at Overbrook High and won two city championships.
They Offered Him What?
By Wilt Chamberlain's senior season at Overbrook High, over 200 universities had offered the 7-foot-1 center scholarship offers. And much more.
UCLA told Chamberlain if he came to school there, they'd put him in movies. The University of Pennsylvania reportedly offered him diamonds and an assistant coach position for his high school coach.
None of it could sway Wilt away from what he wanted, which was to get away from the East Coast and to stay away from the South, where racial segregation still ruled.
After meeting with legendary University of Kansas coach Phog Allen (as in Allen Fieldhouse), Chamberlain was sold on the Jayhawks and declared he was headed to the Midwest to play for Allen.
The Legend in Lawrence
Wilt Chamberlain came to the University of Kansas in the fall of 1955 but wasn't allowed to play in varsity games until his sophomore year per NCAA rules at the time.
Playing on the freshmen team, Chamberlain led the freshmen to a win over the varsity, 81-71, with 42 points, 29 rebounds and 4 blocks in a year Kansas was picked to win its conference.
Chamberlain found other ways to occupy his time as a freshman, starring in sprints, jumps and throws on the track team while he waited for his varsity debut.
Three Years, No National Championships
Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas took the nation by storm during his sophomore season, despite some behind-the-scenes turmoil.
Chamberlain didn't realize that the Kansas university system forced employees to retire at 70 years old, so when head coach Phog Allen turned 70 before his sophomore year, the school hired Dick Harp, who Chamberlain did not have a good relationship with.
Despite that, Chamberlain led Kansas to the national championship game, where he was named Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four despite losing to North Carolina in the title game.
Chamberlain later called it "the most disappointing loss of my life."
'Why I Am Leaving College'
Wilt Chamberlain averaged 30.1 points as a junior in 1957-58 despite being triple-teamed, and with no shot clock, teams stalled so he wouldn't even get to touch the ball.
Discontent with his relationship with Harp and ready to make some cash on his athletic talents, Chamberlain showed some of the business acumen that would make him rich beyond the money he earned playing basketball in later years.
He sold his story "Why I Am Leaving College" to Look magazine for $10,000 at a time the average yearly NBA salary was $9,000.
Wilt Joins the Globetrotters
When Wilt Chamberlain left Kansas with one year of eligibility remaining, NBA rules dictated that college players weren't eligible to play in the league until after the year their college class graduated — so Chamberlain was still a year away from being eligible to play in the NBA.
That was no problem for Chamberlain, who took $50,000 to play for the Harlem Globetrotters for the 1958-59 season — equivalent to about $500,000 in today's money.
Chamberlain's year with the Globetrotters was notable for playing a sold-out tour of the Soviet Union, and they were greeted before their game at Lenin Central Stadium by Russian leader Nikita Kruschev.
Territorial Picks Were Stupid
The NBA had some pretty stupid rules back in the day, and not just when it came to keeping players out of the league until after their freshman class in college went through graduation.
One of the dumber things the NBA ever did was an antiquated system of territorial picks meant to keep college stars with professional teams in their area.
This meant that before the actual draft took place, teams were able to pick a "territorial" college player for their team. For some reason, the NBA changed the rules in 1959 to accommodate not just college players from a team's "territory" but also players who were originally from the area.
This allowed the Philadelphia Warriors to select Chamberlain, who should have been picked by the Cincinnati Royals.
Rookie Year for the Ages
Wilt Chamberlain is one of only two players, along with Wes Unseld, to be named NBA Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in the same year.
Even 60 years later, Chamberlain's dominance from the moment he played his first NBA game can't be overstated. He led the league with 37.6 points and 27.0 rebounds per game as a rookie for his hometown Philadelphia Warriors.
Chamberlain took such a beating on hard fouls as a rookie that he told the press he was considering retirement after just one season.
Wilt's 100-Point Game
Philadelphia Warriors owner Eddie Gottlieb talked Wilt Chamberlain out of retirement after his rookie season by giving him a hefty raise from $50,000 to $65,000 and kept him on the team following his second season by firing coach Neil Johnston, who Chamberlain abhorred.
Gottlieb replaced Johnston with Dick McGuire ahead of the 1961-62 season — someone who Chamberlain respected as McGuire was the North Carolina coach when the Tar Heels beat Chamberlain and Kansas in the 1957 NCAA final.
That first season with McGuire, Chamberlain set NBA records that will never be broken as the big man averaged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds per game.
On March 2, 1962, Chamberlain crafted the greatest single game in NBA history, scoring 100 points on 36-of-63 shooting and making 28-of-32 free throws in a 169-147 win over the New York Knicks.
Only One Player Ever Came Close
In the 60 years since Wilt Chamberlain set an NBA record by scoring 100 points in a win over the New York Knicks, only one player has ever come close to matching that mark.
On Jan. 22, 2006, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a 122-104 win over the Toronto Raptors — the second-highest single-game scoring total behind Chamberlain's 100 points against the New York Knicks in 1962.
If You're Going to San Francisco...
Philadelphia Warriors owner Eddie Gottlieb sold the team to San Francisco businessman Marty Simmons for $850,000 before the 1962-63 season — the equivalent of about $7 million in today's money.
Simmons promptly moved the team to the West Coast, where star player Wilt Chamberlain was generally unhappy and sullen but still productive on the court and led the team to the 1964 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Boston Celtics and Bill Russell.
Facing mounting financial troubles, the Warriors traded Chamberlain to the Philadelphia 76ers midway through the 1964-65 season for three players and $150,000.
Today, the Golden State Warriors are the second-most valuable NBA franchise, valued at $4.7 billion, according to Forbes.
'Loser' Label Sticks to Wilt
Back on the East Coast, Wilt Chamberlain found himself surrounded by talent on the Philadelphia 76ers but ran into an immovable object and was denied a title by the Boston Celtics and Bill Russell once again at the end of the 1964-65 season.
In response, Chamberlain conducted an interview with Sports Illustrated called "My Life in the Bush League" in which he ran down everyone in the NBA as being beneath him — teammates, opponents, coaches, administrators and owners. Not a great look.
Looking back, Russell pointed out that this was when Chamberlain was saddled with the "loser" tag, which would dog him for the rest of his career.
Did Wilt Live in New York While He Played for Philly?
One of the great urban legends surrounding Wilt Chamberlain was that he lived in New York full-time while he played for the Philadelphia 76ers.
This was partly true. Chamberlain had enough wealth at the time that he had apartments in both places, but according to basketball historians, he spent most of his time in New York and commuted to Philadelphia for games and, sometimes, practices.
Chamberlain did this for several reasons. He didn't like the microscope he was under in his hometown and also loved being close to Harlem, which was the epicenter of Black culture at the time.
The First Championship Season
Wilt Chamberlain tanked the 1965-66 NBA playoffs for Philadelphia 76ers head coach Dolph Schayes, who begged his star player to come to practices and show up for shootarounds. Chamberlain would not.
Schayes was replaced by Alex Hannum for the 1966-67 season, and Hannum's first move was to hold a team meeting in which he called out Chamberlain for his selfishness, which almost led to blows. The meeting represented a sea change for Chamberlain, who came to respect Hannum for not backing down.
Paired with fellow future Hall of Famers Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham, and with Hannum pressing Chamberlain to play more defense, the 76ers won the 1967 NBA championship by beating his old team in the finals, the San Francisco Warriors, as Chamberlain averaged a career-low 24.2 points, a career-high 7.8 assists and 23.4 rebounds.
Headed to Hollywood
Wilt Chamberlain claimed that before he died, 76ers owner Ike Richman promised him a 25 percent stake in the team once his career was over, which was something new owner Irv Kosloff said he would not do.
Chamberlain agreed to a one-year contract for $250,000 as tensions simmered, and when Hannum left after the season to go coach the ABA's Oakland Oaks, Chamberlain forced a trade to the West Coast as well.
He was shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for three players, making it the first time a reigning MVP was traded the next season.
'The Dumbest and Worst Coach Ever'
We see your modern NBA super teams and raise you the Los Angeles Lakers of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which featured three Hall of Famers in Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain.
Unfortunately, the team was coached by Butch van Breda Kolff, who thought it would be a good idea to badmouth Chamberlain to anyone who listened instead of going to the man himself. Van Breda Kolff nicknamed him "The Load" and complained about his selfishness, ego and focus on his own stats.
Chamberlain retorted in kind, calling van Breda Kolff "the dumbest and worst coach ever."
How One Game Destroyed Two Careers
Things never got better between Los Angeles Lakers head coach Butch van Breda Kolff and star center Wilt Chamberlain during the 1968-69 season, and came to a head in Game 7 of 1969 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.
Chamberlain, with 18 points and 27 rebounds, exited the game with six minutes left after he twisted his knee on a rebound. Chamberlain never went back in the game, and van Breda Kolff never attempted to substitute him back in or even ask if he was ready to go back in, and Chamberlain never took the initiative to reinsert himself in the game, which was in Los Angeles.
Trailing 103-102 with three minutes left, the Laker eventually lost 108-106. Van Breda Kolff resigned shortly after, citing his "stubbornness" for not putting his star back in the game. Celtics star Bill Russell called out Chamberlain afterward, saying "only a broken neck or broken back" should have kept him out of the game.
The Second — and Last — Championship Season
Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers lost to the New York Knicks and Willis Reed's heroics in the 1970 NBA Finals, and Chamberlain spent most of the 1970-71 season preoccupied with an exhibition fight against Muhammad Ali for a $5 million payday.
Chamberlain backed out of the fight at his father's advice, Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke offered a new contract "to forget all this boxing foolishness," and Chamberlain turned his attention back to hoops.
The Lakers hired former Celtics guard Bill Sharman as coach for the 1971-72 season, and Sharman convinced Chamberlain to not only be the team captain but to (gasp!) show up to early-morning shootarounds.
Chamberlain responded with one of the gutsiest seasons of all time, leading the Lakers past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Bucks in the Western Conference finals and beating the Knicks in the NBA Finals for Chamberlain's second and final NBA championship.
Wilt’s NBA Career Comes to an End
Wilt Chamberlain would play just one more NBA season following the 1972 NBA championship. The Lakers lost to the Knicks in five games in the 1973 NBA Finals — their third matchup against the Knicks in the Finals in four seasons.
Chamberlain averaged 13.2 points and led the NBA with 18.6 rebounds to win his 11th rebounding title in his final season. Chamberlain scored his last basket on a dunk with one second left.
At 36 years old, his career in the NBA was over.
One Weird Year in San Diego
The NBA had a legitimate rival throughout the 1970s in the ABA, and Wilt Chamberlain jumped to the league to be a player-coach for the San Diego Conquistadors for a one-year contract for $600,000. The Lakers successfully sued to keep Chamberlain off the court because they had a player option on his contract for that season, and he was forced to just coach the team.
Chamberlain deferred most of his coaching duties to assistant coach Stan Albeck and spent most of the season promoting one of several autobiographies he would write over his life — "Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door" — and even skipped a game to go to a book signing.
After the season, Chamberlain retired from professional basketball altogether.
What Will He Do With All That Free Time?
One amazing thing about Wilt Chamberlain was his lifelong dedication to physical fitness, and he maintained an incredible physique following his playing career because of it.
There were few athletic endeavors Chamberlain wasn't great at, if not outright dominant.
Following his career, he began to be a regular on the Southern California beach volleyball scene, often dominating pro competitions and playing for a pro team in Seattle at one point. He also sponsored his own track club, Wilt's Athletic Club, which featured several future Olympic gold medalist, including Florence Griffith-Joyner.
Chamberlain claimed to have only been beaten in the high jump once, by Olympic champion Charles Dumas, and never lost in the shot put, where he said he once beat Olympic champion Al Oerter.
As Rich as He Was Famous
Wilt Chamberlain was the highest-paid basketball player in the world throughout his career, if not the highest-paid athlete in all of professional sports, and made even more money as a pitchman for companies like TWA, American Express, Volkswagen, Le Tigre and Foot Locker.
After his career, Chamberlain continued to add to his fortune thanks to smart investments in stocks and real estate. He also bought a popular Harlem nightclub and made money off investing in broodmares (female horses used in breeding).
When he moved to Los Angeles, he had a mansion built to his specifications in Bel-Air that he named Ursa Major at a cost of $1 million. The mansion had some distinctive features, including no right angles, a helicopter pad and an "X-rated room" that was entirely made up of a fur-covered waterbed and mirrors along the walls and ceiling.
In 2020, Ursa Major was listed for sale at $19 million.
Wilt Goes to the Movies
It's no surprise that Wilt Chamberlain was drawn to the silver screen. He did end up spending the largest part of his life living in Hollywood.
Chamberlain had a few notable contributions to the entertainment industry. He financed a 1976 documentary "Go For It" that was essentially a love letter to elite surfing and skateboarding competitions around the world and featured the infamous Dogtown and Z-Boys.
In 1984, Chamberlain famously costarred in the sequel "Conan the Destroyer" alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger as Conan, with Chamberlain playing the warrior Bambaata.
A Certain Type of Fame
Wilt Chamberlain spent his post-basketball life just like he spent his basketball life — as the most famous and most recognizable person everywhere he went.
Chamberlain's ego didn't really diminish over time. As NBA salaries went up, he continually griped about how underpaid he'd been throughout his career.
Throughout the 1990s he also became known for his harsh criticism of the up-and-coming generation of players, saying they lacked respect for the players who'd come before him.
Complicated Relationship with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Wilt Chamberlain's most complicated professional relationship was with Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. As a teenager, Abdul-Jabbar idolized Chamberlain, 11 years his senior, and the two became friends when Abdul-Jabbar was 16 years old.
Once Chamberlain's career ended, the relationship turned sour. Chamberlain constantly criticized Kareem's play in the press and called for him to retire. In Kareem's 1990 autobiography "Giant Steps," he dedicated an entire chapter to Chamberlain entitled "An Open Letter to Wilt Chumperlane" that finally fired back at his one-time idol.
"After any tough test in which you didn't do well, you quit," Kareem wrote. "All you could say was that your teammates stunk and that you had done all you could, and besides, the refs never gave you a break. Poor Wilt.
"Now that I am done playing, history will remember me as someone who helped teammates to win, while you will be remembered as a crybaby, a loser, and a quitter."
Wilt's Claim: 20,000 Sexual Partners
One of the stories about Wilt Chamberlain that persists even to this day is his claim in his 1991 autobiography "A View From Above" that he slept with 20,000 different women during his life, which friends said he calculated using a daybook he added a checkmark to each time he slept with a different woman.
While Chamberlain was a lifelong bachelor who lived alone his entire adult life, his claim sparked a wave of criticism from all corners as it came during the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. and fed into negative stereotypes of Black athletes.
Wilt didn't back down.
"I was just laying it out there for people who were curious," he said.
Wilt Chamberlain: Aug. 21, 1936-Oct. 12, 1999
Wilt Chamberlain was hospitalized in 1992 for an irregular heartbeat and began to take medication for his condition, but continued to battle heart problems over the next few years.
In 1999, friends say he began to rapidly lose weight and, in the fall of that year, underwent painful dental surgery that seemed to worsen his overall condition.
One week following the surgery, on Oct. 12, 1999, Chamberlain died of a massive heart attack at 63 years old and with an estimated fortune of $25 million to $30 million.
Bonded Together for Eternity
After Chamberlain's death, the outpouring of praise came from all corners. Longtime rival and then friend Bill Russell said "the fierceness of our competition bonded us together for eternity."
Former Celtics coach Red Auerbach said Chamberlain laid the groundwork for the success of the entire NBA, and he was praised, unanimously, for being one of the greatest players of all time.
"He was complex," said longtime Lakers teammate and general manager Jerry West. "A very nice person, but also very complex."