Wilt Chamberlain: Recalling the days Wilt came to Oklahoma

WILT CHAMBERLAIN — On the 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game, we reached into The Oklahoman Vault for a story on what it was like when Wilt came to Oklahoma.
BY ANDREW GILMAN, Staff Writer Published: March 2, 2012
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A version of this story was originally published in the Feb. 7, 2000 editions of The Oklahoman.

Wilt Chamberlain stood as tall as his hype in the winter of 1957.

Seven feet of mystery and excitement.

He dunked and blocked and scored when we wanted to, before they changed the rules to keep him from doing what he did, but knowing he still would.

In 1957, Chamberlain was a University of Kansas sophomore and the biggest and tallest thing in college basketball. Everyone knew it, but not everyone had seen it.

When Wilt, who died in 1999, came to town in the winter of 1957, fans formed lines to get in and see him. Buildings were sold out. The game was secondary, seeing Wilt was primary.

Kansas and Wilt had taken on Oklahoma before the Jayhawks came to Norman on Jan. 7. And they already had played Oklahoma A&M before going to Stillwater on Feb. 21.

But Chamberlain hadn't played in Oklahoma. No one around here knew what to expect. They had heard, they had read, but they had no idea.

On the day Wilt came to town, everything stopped.

LONG LINES

The day Wilt came to town, Oklahoma center Joe King saw the lines in front of the OU Field House.

"There was an usual feeling among the students," King said. "It was the only time that there was ever a line to get into that place.

"Everybody knew who he was. He was just a great athlete that had gotten tremendous national publicity. He wasn't just regional, he was national."

Later that season, Oklahoma A&M player Eddie Sutton said almost the same thing about the game in Stillwater.

"Everyone was excited," said Sutton, now Oklahoma State's basketball coach. "That was the first time I can remember people scalping tickets."

Maybe it was because of the hype.

On the day Wilt came to town, The Oklahoman called Kansas "college basketball's greatest road show." Writer Jay Simon said that all 8,500 tickets had "long been sold" for the 8 p.m. game in Gallagher Hall.

A&M officials arranged a special closed-circuit telecast of the game at a nearby school auditorium to handle the overflow.

Wilt's picture dominated the sports page with his arms spread wide and his hands larger than his hype.

Meanwhile, the line was long and the feeling was...

"There was an air of excitement of Wilt coming to play," Sutton said. "People forget, but he could have been the greatest athlete to ever play intercollegiate athletics."

'BEAT WILT'

Nobody said, "Hello," when they answered the phones in Stillwater the day Wilt came to town.

Instead, "Everyone said, 'Beat Wilt,' " remembers Arlen Clark, who guarded Wilt in Gallagher Hall that night. "It was sheer excitement. Everyone was involved. Basically, it was all anyone talked about. Everyone hung on to the opportunity to see him."

The Oklahoman continued its coverage, previewing Wilt's appearance in Norman, "Every available seat in the 4,300-capacity OU Field House will be filled," to see " Chamberlain, most ballyhooed performer in the history of basketball."

Chamberlain was big. The hype was bigger. That's undebatable, but there were some that weren't caught up in it. Some had a basketball game to coach.

"You're damn right I remember that day," said A&M assistant Sam Aubrey, who didn't spend his time soaking in the atmosphere of the 7-foot circus. Heck, Aubrey had to figure out how to stop him.

"The papers were full of Wilt," said Aubrey. "More than anything I've seen. Mr. Iba said his main objectives were to beat Kansas and Oklahoma."



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