50 Years Later, No Rival To Basketball Scoring Record

Fifty years ago on Friday, Wilt Chamberlin scored 100 points in a professional basketball game. Legendary players have come and gone in the NBA, but no one has come close to Chamberlain's record.

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And, today, we remember a landmark moment in American sports history. Half a century ago, basketball great Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one game. Legendary players have come and gone in the NBA, but no one has come close to Chamberlain's record.

NPR's Tom Goldman has this look back.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: It sure didn't start like a night that would end in the history books. March 2nd, 1962, the Philadelphia Warriors hosted the New York Knicks in an old drafty gym in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The NBA had come to America's chocolate Mecca as way to spread the league's popularity.

A little over 4,000 locals showed up to see a late season game that meant nothing in the standings. Ho-hum? Not for Harvey Pollack.

HARVEY POLLACK: In that game, I had five different jobs. It was the busiest night of my whole career.

GOLDMAN: Pollack, now 89 and still working for the NBA, was the Warriors' PR director. Three of his other jobs that night were as a reporter. The Philadelphia Enquirer and two wire services didn't send their own people. Pollack's fifth job turned out to be the most labor intensive, keeping stats for the game.

BILL CAMPBELL: Here's the big fourth quarter and everybody's thinking, how many is Wilt going to get? He's got 69 going in. Here's the pass. He's got another one.

GOLDMAN: Chamberlain would end up averaging an eye-popping 50.4 points per game that season, but as the final quarter began on March 2nd and he scored number 70 and 71, the small but charged up crowd knew something special was happening. The game wasn't televised. Only the fourth quarter of a radio broadcast remains, with Bill Campbell doing the play-by-play.

He describes a seven foot, one inch man, nicknamed the Big Dipper, filling the basket with an assortment of shots. Of course, the Dipper dunks, but there was also speed as Chamberlain ran the court, finesse as he banked in jumpers from the side.

Here's Chamberlain, years later, in an ESPN interview.

WILT CHAMBERLAIN: I had this thing in my head that I wanted to show people I was a complete basketball player. Understand? And, by doing that, I developed the fade-away jump shot and the finger roll and the hook shot and all the tools that are out there that basketball players had.

GOLDMAN: The Knicks tried mightily to stop him on March 2nd. At times, they put all five players on Chamberlain and stalled when they had the ball. When it was over, Harvey Pollack grabbed a piece of paper, wrote 100 on it and handed it to Chamberlain, who held it up for the iconic photo of that moment, a moment that was more than just a stunning stat line.

In 1962, Chamberlain was one of only 37 African-American players in the NBA. Gary Pomerantz, who wrote the definitive book on the record, "Wilt, 1962," says there was an unwritten quota in the league with just a few black players per team.

GARY POMERANTZ: And what Wilt did in his third NBA season by averaging 50 points per game and throwing down that 100-point thunderbolt in Hershey, which to symbolically blow that quarter to bits.

CAMPBELL: (Unintelligible). Fans are coming out of the stands.

GOLDMAN: Tom Goldman, NPR News.

CAMPBELL: The most amazing scoring performance of all time. One hundred points for the Big Dipper. People are all over the (unintelligible).

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