Wilt Chamberlain was never what people thought he should be.
The title of Wilt Chamberlain's autobiography, which came out in the 1960s, says it all. He was never predictable, never fell in line with the expectations of others, and usually created controversy.
In the early 1990s, Chamberlain wrote another book, claiming to have slept with 20,000 women in his lifetime. At the time, that averaged out to something like 1.4 girls per day from his fifteenth birthday to date of publication.
"Was he exaggerating?" The rhetorical question is asked by Chamberlains' attorney and friend of 40 years, Seymour Goldberg. "Sure. Was he with a huge number of women? Sure. I remember one trip to Las Vegas watching women come up to him and he would line them up, one for 10 o'clock, one for 11 o'clock and one for 12."
Lost in the ridicule Chamberlain endured for revealing his John Holmes-like lifestyle just as the world was grasping the horrible news that Magic Johnson had AIDS was the message he was trying to convey. Chamberlain attempted to tell a cautionary tale, that it is better to be with one woman 1,000 times, rather than with 1,000 women once. Nobody heard that.
Chamberlain's friendship with the Jewish Goldberg is an example of the dichotomy of this Goliath of a man. So was his support of Richard Nixon in 1968. Like Jackie Robinson, Wilt walked to the beat of a different drummer. Nobody told him what to do, or with whom he could do it with.
"Wilt was the greatest offensive player I have ever seen," said Boston Celtic Hall of Famer Bill Russell. "I've seen none better."
This reporter feels a sense of melancholy over Chamberlain's passing. I was waiting to hear back from him, to get some quotes on a Distant Replay column I am writing about the 1971-72 Lakers. Perhaps if he had returned the call, mine would have been the last interview he ever granted!
The statistics and the women are well chronicled. What should be made clear is that Chamberlain was a complex man who once responded to the question, "What would you have been if you were six feet tall?" by saying, "Maybe John Stockton. Maybe a miniature Jerry West, or maybe the President of the United States."
Chamberlain was a black man who refused to participate in racial politics. Some black people felt that by not acknowledging victims' status, he "sold out" African-Americans. Chamberlain was highly intelligent, but he said things that he would have been better off keeping to himself. If he regretted his comments, nobody heard him admit it. His love of history, and willingness to demonstrate to all who would listen how much he knew about Napoleon, the 100 Years War, and the like, were sometimes construed as an attempt to separate himself from his ethnic identity.
The bottom line is that Chamberlain was a kindly man with the heart of a lion (irony intended). He meant well, exuded love and wanted it in return. He was one of the greatest athletes of all time, but wanted to be Number One, and felt frustration when others gave others that accolade. He was unlike anybody else, before or since.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism