Big Norman turns 70

Kurt —  August 22, 2006

This month Wilt Chamberlain would have turned 70. Long after his playing days and his passing, he remains one of the more complex and misunderstood men ever in the game, a giant who could be both intimidating and gentle. A man who never received the universal love of the fans and who, unfairly, was often blamed for the shortcomings of those around him.

He’s also one of the few NBA legends I’ve ever met (out on the beach in Pacific Palisades, when he was playing a lot of beach volleyball and so was I). My friends and I were all a little intimidated by him, but he was always polite in the brief conversations we had.

In honor of his birthday, there are a couple of interesting stories out on the Web today. The best is an excerpt of Roland Lazenby’s book The Show talking about Wilt that really is a must read:

Jerry West: “The ironic thing about Wilt was that he never seemed to be relaxed and fun. I think after he got out of basketball, he became much more relaxed. Much of it had to do with the fact he was Wilt Chamberlain, and no one pulled for him. I think those things really bothered him all his life. There’s no question it was tough to be a giant.”


Bill Bertka (about Wilt coming to the Lakers): “(Laker coach) Butch van Breda Kolff was at a party at my house in Santa Barbara when he heard that Chamberlain was being traded. He was upset. Butch didn’t have anything against Chamberlain or his effectiveness. But you had to have Chamberlain in the post, and that dictated a style of offense that Butch didn’t particularly like. He’d rather have all five men moving, all five men interchangeable and sharing the ball. Van Breda Kolff had had the great Princeton team. Schaus coached fast-break basketball. When Van Breda Kolff came in, he had a great first year, the second year was even better, and then they acquired Wilt. He wasn’t an admirer of Wilt’s game and how he could fit in.”

If you like the excerpt on Roland’s blog, you really need to get the book. It is a great history of the Lakers.

Bill Dwyer, the former Sports Editor at the LA Times (and a Notre Dame grad, so you know he’s a good guy) has been doing some history pieces and also provides some insight into Wilt:

In dozens of ways, Chamberlain was quirky.

He was known to eat fried chicken just before game time, and hot dogs at halftime. When he traveled, he wanted his seat on the plane to be front row, aisle seat, right side. He played 1,045 games without fouling out. His soft drink was 7-Up. Always 7-Up.

All of this helps give you a window into a man that can be argued is the greatest Laker, and maybe the greatest NBA player, ever.

to Big Norman turns 70

  1. nothing to do about this but i thought you’d enjoy reading about future top players.

    a spanish guy named Ricky Rubio, 15 years old, the younguest player to ever play profesional basketball in spain.

    he’s now playing for the spanish under-16 team in the eurochampionship.

    he recorded a cuadruple-duble in semifinals with 10pts, 19rebs, 12 assist and 11 steals

    in the final against Rusia records 51 pts 24 rebs 12 ass and 7 steals including a half court 3pointer to get to the OT and win the game.

    this guy is a 6-4 PG who hasn]t stop growing (in october he’ll be 16), plays in the same team as Rudy Fernandez (my fav team in spain, Joventud Badalona).

    look for him to be a top3 pick in the 2008-2009 draft

    im having a summer brake in Greece, and I can’t see as many WorldChamps games i’d like
    im just waiting for a USA spain finals to see the 2 best teams in the tournament in an epic battle


  2. We all miss the 100 points man


  3. The Dwyer piece in today’s LA Times was a bit odd. I’m not a nitpicker by nature, but there were two awkward errors only on the first page part of the story. He said that Wilt hated the names “Wilt the Stilt” and “Dipper”, but in reality Wilt loved the name Dipper. Also, he claimed Wilt was closer to 7’4″ but was “listed” at 7′ 1 1/16″. I always understood the 1/16 height was his actual height. Anyway, I’m just an amateur Wilt-ologist, but noticed those opening bloopers right off the bat. But in any case it was nice to see a sentimental article for Wiltie on p.1 of LA Times ’round his bday time….


  4. Native Kansan here
    so thou knowest I think Wilt is the most ut —
    all due respect to BRuss,
    but that stride, that Vandyke beard
    the big block #13
    ( I love that style on the 70’s jerseys )
    and like Magic said, “the finger ro-oo-ll!”

    I don’t get what was culturally going on
    that made Wilt feel so chilled
    by the NBA fans at large back in the day,
    I thought he always looked pretty suave.

    Remember the American Express print ads?
    Wilt and Willie Shoemaker in white suits on the beach
    was my favorite.

    It’s probably a blessing and a burden
    to be as singular a being as he was
    as Jerry West noted.

    Seems like sportswriters
    finally gave him props after his sudden passing.
    I hope he knew by that time how much fans
    really cared about him– especially the extra 50,000
    that claimed to be at the 100-pt game.

    Happy birthday,
    o prince of Philadelphia.

    – 5 –


  5. If I may be so lame as to quote my own review:

    “Laker fans will also recognize Dipperisms (Pomerantz calls him the Dipper throughout the book being as that was what Wilt preferred — he hated “The Stilt”) like “my boom-boom move” and “no one roots for Goliath” as having been “bitten” by one 340 pound South Beach resident.”

    Here is something else I discovered while re-reading that post (written 8/19/05) that seems funny in light of more recent history:

    “No player has gone over 75 since that night and the last player who came close in recent history was David Robinson with 71 and he had the help of the Clippers. Only four players have broken 70: David Thompson, Wilt, Robinson, and the original Laker gunner, Elgin Baylor.”

    Make that 5 players over 70 and only two over 80.