(In 2012 I took a look back at Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game on the 50th anniversary of that epic achievement. Here is that story again, since today, March 2, is the spot on the calendar where it happened in 1962. Included below are quotes from two eyewitnesses, including the former New York Knicks star Richie Guerin, a Bear Lakes resident.)
By Dave George
Palm Beach Post columnist
(Feb. 29, 2012)
Richie Guerin, 79, was on the court March 2, 1962, having bused in with the rest of his New York Knicks teammates to play an odd regular-season date in Hershey, Pa. Wilt was the star of the Philadelphia Warriors, who held their training camp in Hershey and played a few home games every season in the minor-league arena there, scheduling between hockey games and pro wrestling matches and circus shows with the aim of finding and cultivating new NBA fans.
A circus is pretty much what Guerin figured he had stumbled into that night as Wilt kept pouring on the points at a rate even more ridiculous than his per-game average that season of 50.4.
Wilt had 41 points by halftime, 69 after three quarters and then, in the frantic fourth, the normal rules of team competition melted away and Wilt’s one-man exhibition went into overdrive.
“They had made up their mind at halftime that they were going to try to get Wilt to score 100 points,” said Guerin, a West Palm Beach resident for 25 years and a golfing regular at Bear Lakes County Club. “By doing that, they fouled us deliberately so as to maximize the clock on the offensive end.”
At that point, Guerin wanted no part of it.
“I tried to foul out, but the referees kept laughing at me,” he recalled. “I’d say, ‘I’m fouling, look at me, I’m holding this guy,’ but they’d just say, ‘Go ahead, Rich, keep playing.’ ”
View from the crowd
Meanwhile, out in the stands, Chuck Grove and his high school buddies were howling for ever more dunks and finger rolls and one-handed fadeaways from the most enormous and dominant athlete anyone had ever seen. This was history, and Wilt was making all 4,124 ticket-buying customers a part of it.
“I went to high school in a small town called Dillsburg, which is very close to Hershey, and our coach took my high school basketball team to that game,” said Grove, 66, who lives in Wellington and owns Horizon Pool and Patio. “It was an absolutely incredible experience. I don’t think they counted how many dunks he made that night, but it was a lot. When we got home that night, I remember going in to wake up my dad and tell him about it.”
That wasn’t the first time Grove saw Wilt play in Hershey, a quiet little town founded by a chocolate company. Three years earlier, Chamberlain blew through town with the Harlem Globetrotters, starring in comedy routines that emphasized his stupendous size and strength.
On the night Wilt scored 100, however, Guerin was not amused, and he was quoted in the New York newspapers complaining about the suspension of customary team concepts and the eventual sideshow nature of Philadelphia’s 169-147 victory.
“Under normal circumstances, Wilt probably would have scored 80 or 85 points,” Guerin said, noting that the Knicks were missing two of their big men because of injury and illness. “I had the chance to sit down with Wilt a few years later at an All-Star Game out in Seattle. I wanted to clarify with him what I said because I always had the highest regard for Wilt. I thought he was a perfect gentleman and a hell of a player.
“He told me he asked to come out before he got 100 points … but (coach) Frank McGuire kept him in.”
Gary Pomerantz, author of the 2005 book Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era, is doing lots of interviews heading up the 50th anniversary Friday. Speaking recently from his San Francisco home, he said Guerin “was like the Sinatra of the Knicks. He had that New York way about him, that moxie and toughness. If you needed to get tickets to the theater, you went to Richie. If you needed a table at a popular restaurant, you went to Richie. He was a former Marine and a tough competitor, and in his mind the way this game was played was rubbing it in, and doing it in the worst way.”
Famous piece of paper
Wanting to mark the outlandish occasion before the teams hustled to the buses and out of town, the Warriors’ public relations director quickly wrote “100” on a piece of paper and asked Wilt to hold it up for photographers in the locker room. Chamberlain complied, but years later he admitted to feeling a little embarrassed about taking 63 shots, still the NBA single-game record, and firing them off in such an undisciplined manner.
Of all the remarkable things about that night, Wilt’s success on the free-throw line is near the top of the list. He made 28 of 32 attempts, shooting underhand. Considering Chamberlain’s career percentage was .511, that’s beyond bizarre, but there may be a partial explanation.
“When the circus came to town,” said Pomerantz, “they had some clowns who would run and jump off springboards as part of their act. Well, there were some young boys in town who sometimes would sneak into Hershey Arena, take the springboards to the side of the arena where the baskets had been put away, and run and jump off the springboards to dunk a ball.
“Now, these were little guys and 10 feet is a long way down, so they’d be holding onto these rims over and over. Those definitely were some soft rims.”
That Guerin scored 39 points that night is not particularly noteworthy. He was a great scorer, too, an All-Star guard who on three occasions in his career topped 50 points, including a Knicks franchise-record of 57 against the Syracuse Nationals in 1959. All of this came before the three-point shot, too.
Wilt, however, was more than a scoring machine. He was the whole factory. Chamberlain hit the 50-point mark 118 times during his career. Michael Jordan is next at 39.
The only other player ever to come within shouting distance of 100 points in a single game is the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 against Toronto in 2006.
Chamberlain’s area ties
Chamberlain died of congestive heart failure in 1999, collapsing in his Southern California home at age 63. During the last decade of his life, however, Wilt spent a lot of time in Boca Raton.
He opened a restaurant on the western end of Glades Road in 1990 and rented a house nearby. Wilt dabbled in polo ponies and even rode a bit at Royal Palm Polo. He sometimes dropped by the former world-class aquatic facility at Mission Bay to watch dive meets from a deck chair by the pool.
In 1997, Wilt ended his relationship with the restaurant, which since has closed, but once during his time there he spoke with The Palm Beach Post about his 100-point night. He sounded like a kid in a Hershey candy shop, even after all those years.
“They had a shooting arcade right there at the stadium,” Wilt said. “Right before we played the game, I broke every shooting record at the arcade. I killed it.”
Apparently the game, like basketball, was just too easy for him.