The FBI's Pursuit of Wilt Chamberlain's Alleged Gambling

A while ago, I decided to do a FOIA request of Wilt Chamberlain. The main reason I wanted to do it? Someone showed me this cool website which makes FOIA requests of dead people pretty easy. Chamberlain seemed like he was as likely as anyone to have an interesting FBI file.

It came in the mail yesterday. (And, I later learned, the whole thing was online the whole time.)

What you'll find as you wade through the 40+ pages, is that it's almost all about gambling, and while there are a lot of sources saying Chamberlain was a gambler, and the director of the FBI weighs in with memos more than once, there's no proof or corroboration, and the eventually the investigation is dropped. (In fact, throughout the files many anonymous sources are consulted saying they can not confirm the rumors of Chamberlain's various alleged misdeeds.)

It's really hard to know what all this means, if anything. Gambling has long had a hand in sports? Wilt Chamberlain was a problem gambler? The FBI (or their informants) had it out for an iconoclastic young black man?

Read it, and let me know your take.

I'm not the first person to write about this. For instance, The Smoking Gun has many of these same documents online in an easy-to-read manner. Here are some of the most interesting parts of those documents:

  • Page 1 "[name removed] had advised on April 20, 1966 that Wilt Chamberlain is a very heavy gambler in basketball games in the NBA" and "it is a general opinion that Wilt has shaded points in the professional games that he is a part of and places bets on these shading situations through [name removed]."

  • Page 2 discusses concerns of a possible fix of the November 2, 1966 game between the Celtics and Chamberlain's Philadelphia team.

  • Page 3 is a document prepared on November 4, 1966, saying an unnamed informant has learned that Chamberlain had bet a large amount on a game to be played on November 5, 1966. (Philadelphia lost to Boston that day.)

  • Page 4 tells about an unspecified game in which there was heavy gambling, and Chamberlain played very poorly with a "twisted knee."

  • Page 6 cites an informant saying Chamberlain is thought to have bet on his own team, but not against his team, and not involving point shaving.

  • Page 7 has a source saying Chamberlain bet on the Lakers to beat the Celtics in Game 6 of a playoff series.

  • Page 8 says "it is noted that, during the spring of 1967, the Boston Office had developed information that Chamberlain [several words blacked out] the Boston Celtics were betting heavily on professional basketball."

  • Page 11 is essentially a memo from Director Hoover saying he wants to know everything about this case.

  • Pages 12+ are about a totally different incident, where Chamberlain was tired of airline delays and made some crack about shooting somebody, which got everyone all hopped up but ended up being nothing.

I got several more pages of documents, that are not on The Smoking Gun (but you can wade through a big PDF and see all of the documents I got, I think, on the FBI's website). Some highlights:

  • It is noted that Chamberlain was in Las Vegas for a Caesar's Palace event on 7/2/1969. Another document notes Chamberlain's name on a list of guests who got complimentary stays at Caesar's in January 1968.

  • Someone is cited having claimed that that Chamberlain bet on Philadelphia for the game on 11/18/1966 against the Chicago Bulls. Then it says "Additionally, [blacked out] told the informant that [blacked out] Boston Celtics, has bet [blacked out] on Baltimore for the Celtics game with Baltimore on November 18, 1966, at Boston." (For what it's worth, Boston won that game by a country mile, so if, as that appears, that's a tale of a Celtic betting against his team, he messed up.)

  • In a massive sea of blacked out writing is the phrase "Chamberlain's basketball debts."

  • Another memo notes that Chamberlain complained to reporters of a bad knee when his 76ers played in New York on February 10, 1968 and Philadelphia lost badly. He was quoted saying was unlikely to play the following night against St. Louis. St. Louis became the betting favorites, but then Chamberlain played one of his best games of the year and Philadelphia won by 22.