The league had just nine franchises in 1961-62. The Celtics had Russell. The Syracuse Nationals had 6-foot-9 Johnny Kerr, a solid, long-time center. The Cincinnati Royals had rugged Wayne Embry. The Chicago Packers had 6-11 Walt Bellamy, who became a Hall of Famer. Half the league had a good center. About like always. Why didn’t Shaq score 25 points 106 times?
And besides, what if Wilt did have a physical advantage? What if he was bigger and stronger and faster than all his foes? How is that somehow unfair? How does that diminish what he did? How is that any different than what LeBron does today?
LeBron is bigger, stronger, faster and more skilled than everybody in the 2014 NBA. And Wilt Chamberlain was exactly the same in the 1962 NBA.
The best argument against Wilt’s Everest achievements — the 100-point game, the 50.4 scoring average in 1961-62, the streaks of seven straight 50-point games and 14 straight 40-point games and 65 straight 30-point games and 106 25-point games — is the change in tempo.
The NBA was a faster league in 1961-62. Teams shot more quickly. Teams didn’t play the same kind of defense then as now.
Teams scored more in 1961-62 — an NBA average of 118.8 points per game, compared to 100.8 now.
Individuals scored more. Six of the nine teams in 1961-62 had a player who averaged at least 29.5 points a game. Now, only five of the 30 teams have at least a 25-point-a-game scorer.
Of course, Wilt didn’t play with the 3-point line, which would have helped against sagging defenses, and he didn’t play with chartered flights and educated training staffs. Chamberlain rode buses in the middle of the night and took 7 a.m. commercial flights to St. Louis and Chicago.
I said it was the modern era. I didn’t say it was enlightened.
And while Chamberlain blazed a trail like Babe Ruth, Wilt also went where no other player could go.
Within a few seasons, baseball had all kinds of players who were hitting home runs like Ruth. The Babe hit 54 in 1920, then the majestic 60 in 1927. But Jimmie Foxx hit 58 in 1932, and Hank Greenberg hit 58 in 1938, and Hack Wilson hit 56 in 1930.
But Chamberlain averaged 50.4 in 1961-62, then 44.8 in 1962-63, and no one else ever approached those numbers, even though the league eventually filled with skilled giants.
Jordan’s 37.1 in 1986-87 is the closest anyone ever has come to Wilt.
“He’s the one who made me better,” said Russell, the greatest champion in American sport. “He’s the one who made everyone wonder what was possible … part fable, all real. A legend everyone wanted to be a part of.”
And now Kevin Durant’s streak is part of the Chamberlain tale. Don’t dismiss what Wilt did. Embrace it.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.