Will Wilt Chamberlain Be Denied Number 3, Again?
Keith R. Thompson,
In 1973 as he
took the floor of the celebrated Los Angeles Forum to compete in his sixth
and final NBA Finals Wilt Chamberlain had a funny feeling in the depths of his
stomach. He had come through the golden decade of the ‘60’s as
undoubtedly the greatest offensive player professional basketball has
ever seen, only to be turned back time and again (7 times in fact) by
Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics. And if Russell’s insurmountable
dominance wasn’t challenging enough, he now had to deal with a determined
Knickerbocker by the name of Willis Reed after Russell’s retirement.
Because the 1973 Finals was going to be his last in the NBA Wilt wanted to
augment his two NBA championships and bow out as the champion he always
knew he was. But in a stark reversal of fortunes of the ‘72
championship series his Lakers team was
emphatically brushed aside four
games to one by the Knicks, and so ended his dreams of a third NBA
ring. Wilt was denied number 3 the first time around.
Chamberlain, arguably the greatest basketball player in history, has
always remained a championship enigma. With only two NBA rings to show for his
14 seasons in the NBA he has never proven to be a truly intimidating
force in the play-offs.
Nevertheless over the course of his career he
has led his various teams to a combined 63% winning record, including
an 88-72 record in the play-offs.
The dominance of Wilt’s career was
eloquently epitomized in 1978 when he was elected to the Basketball
Hall of Fame, on the first ballot. This accomplishment, though
significant, was by no means his best or only accomplishment however. Wilt’s NBA
career had spanned some three teams: the Warriors in Philadelphia and San
Francisco, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Lakers. And from
two of those teams – the 76ers and the Lakers – he was offered the
team’s highest honor by having his number 13 jersey retired to lofty
heights. But in one of professional sport’s most bizarre scenarios no
such honor was bestowed from his first competitive pro team, the Warriors
now of Oakland’s Golden State.
Wilt Chamberlain’s Regular Season Performance Per Team
In his five and one half seasons as a Warrior, Wilt Chamberlain established
countless franchise and league records that may likely never be broken.
As a Warrior he was the first player to score over 3,000 points in a
single season (doing it thrice), the only player to score over 4,000
points in a season in 1961/62, the only player to collect over 2,000
rebounds in a season (twice), and the highest career scoring and rebounding
averages in NBA franchise history of 41.5 points per game and 25.1
rebounds per game (for players with over 400 regular season games per
franchise). His 17,783 total franchise points is still unsurpassed
after 32 years, as is his NBA single game records of 100 points and 55
While Wilt never won a championship with the Warriors he
nevertheless did lead them to one NBA Finals, and two Eastern
Conference Finals, losing on all three occasions to Russell’s dynastic
Celtics of the 1960’s.
During the Warriors 51 years of basketball
franchise operations (35 of which were spent in California) only four
players have had their numbers retired to the arena’s lofts. Two of
these – Rick Barry and Nate Thurmond – were later named to the NBA’s Fifty
Greatest players of all-time, yet neither had superior career stats
over Wilt who was also named to the elite all-time team. And while
Barry led the Warriors to the NBA title in 1975, neither Thurmond nor
the other two retirees, Alvin Attles or Tom Meschery, have been nearly
With that in mind the established view which held that
Wilt’s not being honored by the Warriors was the result of his never
leading the franchise to an NBA title despite his many individual
accomplishments now appears to have been bogus.
A more plausible
explanation for Wilt’s snubbing at the hands of the Warriors can be
traced to the summer of 1962 when Eddie Gottlieb sold the franchise to a group
of San Francisco businessmen led by Frank Mieuli. Wilt was very
disapproving of the move but did his best that first season to win over
the hearts of San Franciscans with his second best statistical season
ever. Nevertheless the team finished 18 games under .500 and missed the
play-offs for the first time since Wilt joined the team. From then on Mieuli and
Wilt never saw eye-to-eye despite a 48-32 record and an NBA championship
appearance the following season. It had also been rumored that Mieuli was very
egotistical and resented Wilt’s monopoly over all the fame and glory that went
the Warriors way.
In the summer of ‘64 Wilt was hospitalized for
four weeks with an irregular heart-beat and suspected pancreatitis.
However Wilt’s indifference to Mieuli’s welcome-home party led the
lambasted owner to declare that that type of behavior “does not endear me to
Wilt. He is not always a gracious gentleman, and is far from my favorite player
of all time.” That incident and the fact that he was still owed back
pay by Mieuli only escalated frictions between the two. The
tail-spinning 11-game losing streak of the Warriors heading into the
‘65 All-Star break (with a 10-34 overall record) may also have served as
the final straw as Mieuli determined to trade Wilt at the break, and rid himself
of his ‘expensive head-ache.’ Though Wilt did not question the
inevitability of his trade that season to the 76ers he did resent the
manner in which Mieuli paraded him as though he were a container of
undesirable nuclear waste, and their enmity was never quelled since.
Wilt’s contribution to the Warriors basketball franchise is indisputable and
deserves recognition of the highest order through the retiring of his
iconoclastic number 13 jersey. This would retire his number by three
different basketball teams. Only one other player in the history of
professional sports – Nolan Ryan of Major League Baseball – has ever had his
number retired by three different teams. Yet while Ryan was an
undoubtedly great pitcher he was certainly no Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt’s
contribution to basketball can only be compared to Babe Ruth’s
contribution to baseball in the decade of the roaring twenties.
not the most liked personality in all of sports, but his accomplishments in
basketball in general, and with the Warriors franchise in particular, should not
go unrecognized. Will Wilt be denied number 3, again?
Important editorial note:
Two years after this article was first written Wilt Chamberlain died (in October
of 1999) and was posthumously honored by the Warriors in December of
that same year by the retirement of his number 13 jersey.
© 1997 PER Sports, Inc.
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Will Wilt Chamberlain Be Denied Number 3, Again?