|PHILADELPHIA -- Wilt Chamberlain's hometown often had to
love him from a distance. That never diminished his unique hold on
Philadelphia, the city whose greatest sports treasure can be summed
up with one word: Wilt.
"The most dominant athlete in any sport in this country in its
history," said Al Meltzer, a longtime Philadelphia sports
broadcaster. "Nobody dominated their sport like he dominated
Chamberlain, who died Tuesday in Los Angeles at 63, easily was
Philadelphia's greatest and most famous athlete. He was born and
raised in West Philadelphia and starred at the city's Overbrook
He was respected but elusive in the city where his incredible
life began, his status enduring even though he came home only
"He was just a loving, caring man who probably was ahead of his
time in terms of speaking his mind to the media, whereas most
players just gave the usual answers," said Billy Cunningham,
Chamberlain's teammate with the Sixers for several years in the
Chamberlain left his hometown in 1955 to attend the University
of Kansas, then starred for the Philadelphia (and later San
Francisco) Warriors, 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers. Friends say he
never lost his roots despite seeking the kind of fame and lifestyle
that only Hollywood could provide.
At the time of his 100-point game with the Philadelphia Warriors
in 1962, Chamberlain was renting an apartment in New York.
"One thing I remember about the game: Here was a guy who scores 100 points, and after the game was over, got in a car with three
New York Knicks players and drove back to New York," said Bill
Campbell, who did the radio play-by-play for the game. "I always
thought, 'How did a guy who scored all those points against them
get a ride back with three Knicks?"'
When Chamberlain did come home, he was always sure to drive past his old house on North Salford Street. The old gym in which
Chamberlain played in high school has fallen into disrepair and is
no longer used. The current team plays in a newer gym.
"I don't think he ever lost his roots," said Cecil Mosenson,
his high school coach in 1953-54. "Wherever he went, he wore the
Overbrook jacket. His fondest memories, his greatest memories, were
not all the games he played with the NBA, but the ones he played at
Overbrook High School."
Chamberlain, who led Overbrook to three public school
championships and two all-city titles, visited the school 10 years
ago and was honored with a plaque which hangs prominently on the
"I don't hear the kids refer to him a lot," said David Ward,
an assistant football coach who has worked at the school since
1967. "He's had little to do with us. He's never shown up. He's
only come that one time."
But Phil Jasner, the Philadelphia Daily News reporter who has
known Chamberlain for years, said Chamberlain was always revered in
the city because of his accomplishments.
"Why is he so revered here? For lack of better words, it's a
homeboy who made the city proud, who changed the way the game is
played," Jasner said. "He wanted to be known as an athlete, not
Randall Vathis, 47, attended Chamberlain's 100-point game in
Hershey with his father, Associated Press photographer Paul Vathis,
for his 10th birthday.
"It was just a wonderful night," Randall Vathis said. "I'll
never forget it. One thing I remember thinking is, `This is
triple-digits.' I had never thought anyone in my life would score
triple-digits. Nobody -- nobody -- did what this guy did."
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