DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Professional basketball is one sport that rarely struggles to generate attention. And yet 50 years ago this week, one of the greatest basketball performances ever was played out in near obscurity.
Frank Deford explains why.
FRANK DEFORD: Dave Zinkoff, or simply, The Zink, was perhaps the most distinctive public address announcer in sport when, years ago, he called games in Philadelphia, especially for the city's NBA teams. Just his declaring that there were two minutes left in the quarter made you feel that never mind that quarter, doomsday was but a 120 seconds away.
Twoooo minutes. But nothing The Zink cried out was so resounding as when Wilt Chamberlain would make an emphatic slam. Dipper dunk, he would holler.
And so it was exactly 50 years ago this Friday when The Zink was there in an old hockey arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania, screaming dipper dunk again and again as Wilt Chamberlain was on his way to scoring 100 points.
It's often difficult to measure the quality of an individual achievement in a team sport. And yes, on that March the 2nd, 1962, Wilt's Warriors were playing the Knicks, the worst team in the league, whose starting center was injured, in a meaningless game. But still and all, a hundred points in any game in the NBA. In all of Division One college ball, only one guy has gone for a century - that was Frank Selvy of Furman and that was 58 years ago.
Yet curiously, Chamberlain's accomplishment has needed time to become accepted for the wonder that it is. There were, maybe only 4,000 people in attendance, and many of those had primarily come to see members of the Baltimore Colts and Philadelphia Eagles football teams scrimmage at basketball in the preliminary.
Chamberlain averaged 50 points a game that season and his act seemed old. Scoring a hundred points didn't even merit the front-page in New York newspapers. Chamberlain was often dismissed as just a goon, as tall players were often called then.
The greatest public certification you could receive in 1962 was to be invited to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on CBS. Wilt was accorded that honor. But unbeknownst to him, only to be made a fool of, when a dwarf named Johnny Puleo was assigned to run out and pretend to bite the giant's leg. Scoring a hundred points? The audience only roared, mocking the big freak.
How ancient that game seems now: no TV, barely a photograph. I was with Wilt a couple of times, years later, when pandering fans would come up and tell him they saw him score the 100 in Madison Square Garden. Wilt didn't bother to call them out. Thank you, my man, he would politely reply.
History isn't even sure how he scored the hundredth point. Wilt was so strong he was afraid of hurting opponents. He really didn't slam the ball down all that much, generally preferring the dainty, what was called his Finger Roll. Some witnesses remember that he merely laid the last basket in. Others swear that it really was a slam, with the Zink screaming, dipper dunk. Imagine not knowing about the ultimate basket in basketball.
But then, it was, after all, so very long ago when the late Wilt Chamberlain scored a hundred points in an NBA game in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Even in sport, some things get better with time.
GREENE: The voice of Frank Deford you can hear him Wednesday right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
I'm David Greene.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And I'm Renee Montagne.