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 Thursday, October 14
Wilt's spirit was larger than life
By Dr. Jack Ramsay
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 Wilt Chamberlain was a giant of a man. At his peak he was more than seven feet in height, over 300 pounds of muscle, possessing enormous strength and surprising speed and agility. He was the greatest force the game of basketball has known.

He set records of individual achievement that were hardly thought about, such as scoring 100 points in a single game; averaging over 50 points and more than 48 minutes per game for a season; grabbing 55 rebounds in a game (against Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics); never fouling out of a game at any level of play. These are marks that will remain forever untouched.

Wilt Chamberlain
Wilt Chamberlain won two NBA championships, including one with the 1971-72 Lakers.

Wilt took pride in doing things that no other player could accomplish. He led the NBA in rebounding 11 times in his 14-year career and ran away with seven straight scoring titles. He shot over 70 percent from the field in a season and once led the league in assists (1968) -- making him still the only center to accomplish that feat. He owns 25 individual regular-season records.

Wilt was very "stats-conscious." He was aware of how many points, rebounds and assists he had while the game was being played. I recall him once telling the official in charge of statistics that he had Wilt's rebound total incorrect at halftime. He then waited to make sure the numbers were changed to coincide with Wilt's figures.

But Wilt also wanted to show basketball people that he could win. He was annoyed that many regarded Bill Russell more highly because of Boston's great team success.

So in 1966-67, Wilt -- under the gentle pressure of Philadelphia coach Alex Hannum -- became more of a team player and less of a stats collector. He averaged "only" 24 points per game that year, but combined that with 24 rebounds and just under eight assists to lead Philadelphia to the NBA championship, his first. It was the best season of Wilt's career. He dominated Russell in the playoffs as the Sixers won four out of five from Boston.

There was also an enigmatic side to Wilt. The next season, the Sixers lost to the Celtics in the Eastern Division finals in seven games after leading three games to one. In the decisive Game 7, Wilt did not take a shot from the field in the entire second half and the Sixers lost a close, crucial game. When the media asked him about it, Wilt replied that the coach (Hannum) hadn't told him to shoot!

Hannum left the Sixers after that season to coach in his home area, Oakland, in the new American Basketball Association. Wilt volunteered to be player-coach if I (then the team's general manager) would help with the X's and O's, and organize practices. After conferring with owner Irv Kosloff, I agreed to Wilt's plan. But when we met to discuss it later, Wilt said he'd changed his mind.

He demanded to be traded to the Lakers or he said he would jump to the ABA. We made the trade (for Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark and Jerry Chambers) and Wilt went on to win one more championship with Los Angeles. I've often wondered what would have happened if Wilt had become coach of the Sixers and I his assistant.

Off the court, Wilt was even bigger than life. He loved the spotlight and was comfortable in its glare.

I remember walking with him in the streets of downtown Philadelphia and watching him acknowledge honking horns with a smile and a wave of his huge hand. He was enjoying himself.

Wilt was a man of enormous appetites and seemed able to satisfy them. His tales of 20,000 female conquests may seem extreme, but he always appeared to have plenty of company. Wilt seemed to like the fact that heads turned when he entered a restaurant. He loved food and was a voracious eater. I've watched him devour three dinner entrees and seem ready for more.

Wilt once invited me to take a spin in his new Maserati and allowed me to take the wheel. I took the car to about 90 mph and held it there. That didn't satisfy Wilt, and he told me to pull over. We changed places and we were soon zooming along at well over 100 mph. Wilt glanced over to see how I was taking it and said, "This car's made for speed." I didn't disagree.

Wilt could also be utterly charming. He came to dinner at our home when our five children were still kids. He was great -- telling stories of his trips to all parts of the world when he played for the Harlem Globetrotters. He had a great touch with people -- kids and adults alike.

I last saw Wilt at the 1998 Basketball Hall of Fame inductions. He looked fit. When I asked him about today's players, he said he'd still be as dominant as ever. I don't doubt that a bit.

But now this gargantuan, likeable, lovable and sometimes puzzling, gentle man who, in his prime seemed indestructible -- yes, almost immortal -- is suddenly gone.

And the saddest part is that he died alone.

Basketball Hall of Fame member Dr. Jack Ramsay was general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers from 1966-68, the final three years Wilt Chamberlain played for the 76ers.

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