Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Wilt's 100: A Night Like No Other

Kobe Bryant's recent scoring of 81 points in one game has led some to remember a legendary moment in sports: the night when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100. Our commentator puts the hubbub over Bryant's achievement in perspective.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Our commentator Frank Deford has been thinking about one of the most celebrated sports statistics, Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game.

Mr. FRANK DEFORD (Reporter, WSHU, Fairfield, Connecticut): Years after he was finished playing I had dinner with Wilt Chamberlain one night. As we were leaving the restaurant a little man ran up to him and almost breathlessly told Wilt how he'd been there the night he scored 100 points against the Knicks in Madison Square Garden. Wilt, who called most everybody my man, just politely said thank you, my man in that deep voice of his. Outside I asked him why he hadn't called the fellow out on his lie.

Yes, Wilt scored his 100 against the Knicks, but the game had been played in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Wilt just sighed and said this happened to him all the time--people telling him that they were there when he got his 100. He really didn't believe any of them but it obviously meant something for these fans to pretend that they were there so he was happy to conspire in their innocent fantasy. In a few weeks it'll be 44 years since Wilt got his 100. Is there any other individual performance in a team game more glorious?

Don Larsen's world series perfect game? Maybe, but several pitchers have thrown perfect games. Football? Hockey? Soccer? No! All these years on, there is nothing in sport to approach Wilt's 100, either in its majesty, its impossibility or its simplicity. Exactly 100, 1-0-0, triple digits, the century! Of course, the accomplishment has been brought to the fore again because Kobe Bryant scored 81 a couple of weeks ago. This has excited the masses. Eighty-one! Could another human being actually do what Wilt did? And yet, as extraordinary as Bryant's achievement, it's still only, well, 81% of what Chamberlain managed.

Put that in perspective. We wonder if anyone will ever hit .400 in baseball again. Well, 81 percent of .400 is .324 and when someone hits .324, we hardly say breathlessly, can they actually hit .400? The renewed memory of Chamberlain's Everest even caused some mischief because then a girl's high school coach in New York City left his star in for the whole game against a team he was beating 44-6 in the first quarter and she went on to score 113 points to set a new national girls' record. I won't mention her name. It is not her fault her jackass of a coach kept her on the court, but she doesn't deserve the record.

I will mention the coach's name so we can all boo him. It is Ed Grazinski. He is a bully and should not be allowed to coach girls or boys in sports. Actually, earlier this season Kobe Bryant had 62 points in one game after three quarters, but it was a rout and he did not complain when his coach Phil Jackson set him down for the whole last quarter. Jackson explained that it was against the spirit of the game to leave him in. Please note, Ed Grazinski. Maybe Bryant will get another chance at Wilt's record.

He's lucky he's already won three NBA titles so he's accepted as a valid team player. Wilt was only 25 when he scored his 100 and since none of his teams won for another decade, he was often cast as a selfish loser. Wilt is dead now and much of that criticism is forgotten. For most, all that is remembered is that one night, long ago in Hershey, Pennsylvania when Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA game of basketball and, yes, we all would have dearly loved to have been there to see it, my man.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The comments of Frank Deford, who has seen a lot and is a top scoring writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford