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 Wednesday, October 13
Wilt was Philadelphia's greatest athlete
Associated Press

 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 his."

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 High School.

He was respected but elusive in the city where his incredible life began, his status enduring even though he came home only occasionally.

"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 1960s.

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 second floor.

"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 as Goliath."

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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