3/02/1962 - The 100-point game

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(Wilt Chamberlain famously hold up No. 100. Photo by Paul Vathis, AP Photos)

In front of a half-filled arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Wilt Chamberlain put on the greatest single-game display in the history of sports: scoring 100 total points.

Back in the early 60's, NBA teams barnstormed from town to town because the young league was struggling to find its niche. Only 4,124 people were in attendance to see the "home" Philadelphia Warriors take on the Knicks. There were no television cameras, no major sports journalists, only a few photographers, and one man (Bill Campbell) calling the radio play-by-play.

"The Big Dipper" attempted 63 shots and made 36 of them, scored 61 in the second half including 31 in the 4th quarter, and also pulled down 25 rebounds. He even made 28 of his 32 free throws despite being one of the five worst foul shooters in league history.

"Once we were far ahead, the Knicks disregarded trying to win the game and concentrated on stopping me," Chamberlain said. "If they hadn't just tried to stop me without regard to whether they would win or not, I could have scored a lot more."

The Knicks players did their best to make sure Chamberlain never got the ball. But Wilt was 7'1'' and was more or less unstoppable. Chamberlain scored his 100th point of the night with 46 seconds remaining; the raucous crowd ran onto the court and forced the game to come to a hault.

"Sure it was a farce," Wilt's teammate Joe Riklick said of the 4th quarter. "But they made it that way. They triple-teamed Wilt and fouled other guys to send them to the line. (Warriors coach) Frank McGuire saw what they were doing and said, 'Okay, if that's how you want to play...'"

"I think the Knicks were trying desperately to stay out of the record books," Warriors rookie Tom Meschery said. "And there's no doubt we made a conscious effort to help Wilt get his 100."

Amidst the confusion of the fans rushing onto the hardwood, 14 year-old Kerry Ryman, who had snuck into the arena with some of his friends, took the basketball and raced out of the stadium. Ryman and his friends used the ball at their local park until the asphalt surface made it worn and deflated. Little did they know that the ball would become the most valuable piece of basketball merchandise in the world. It has been auctioned off repeatedly and has sold for over a half a million dollars.

Security recognized that Kerry was the thief, but Wilt didn't want the ball and no attempt to get it back was made. "If there was some way I could put that ball in his casket, I'd do it," Ryman said in 1999, a few days after Chamberlain died. "I took something that didn't belong to me."

Many of the game's finer details are murky from the game's dearth of coverage. Most sources claim that the game resumed once the fans were removed from the court, though the official record says that the game was called with 46 seconds still on the clock. There are various versions as to how Chamberlain scored his 100th point, with some saying it was a layup and others claiming it was a dunk. "I don't even know how I scored the last basket," Chamberlain later admitted.

"Your mind does get clouded, but one thing that isn't clouded is that Wilt did score 100 and we did win the ballgame," Al Attles said.

After the game, photographers huddled around the sweating Chamberlain. Statistician Harvey Pollack, who worked from the NBA's inaugural season in 1947 to the 21st century (the only man to do so), pencilled "100" on a sheet of paper and handed it to Chamberlain. The image of Wilt holding 100, much like DiMaggio walking through 56, has stood the test of time.

No Knick was more embarrassed by Wilt than Darrall Imhoff, who started opposite him at the center position. The rookie bigman fouled out after only 20 minutes. "I spent 12 years in his armpits, and I always carried that 100-point game on my shoulders," said Imhoff. Two nights later, the Warriors replayed the Knicks back in New York and lost 129-128. Imhoff played the entire game and was received warmly for playing much better defense against the Dipper. "I got a standing ovation for holding Wilt to 58 points," he said.

Chamberlain's 100-point performance was one game out of perhaps the most statistically daunting season in the history of sports. In the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points per game, 25.7 rebounds per game, and 48.5 minutes per game. The MVP however went to Bill Russell, who continually bested Chamberlain when it mattered most.

Wilt's 100 points in a game seemed to be a record that no one could ever eclipse. Entering the 21st century, no other player had scored more than 73 (Wilt also scored 78 in a triple-overtime game). Then in 2006, Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, an amazing accomplishment that was still 19 shy of the record.

What makes Chamberlain's 100-point game remarkable is the symmetry to it. It isn't an oblong number like 755 or 714 or 56, it's a perfect 100. It's the same number that all basketball teams try to aim for each night, and Wilt reached it by himself.

Further reading:

Ryman Stole the Ball! Ryman Stole the Ball! [New York Times]

The Night Wilt Scored 100 [Wiltfan]

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