October 16, 1972
In 1991, after the release of his most recent autobiography, A View from Above, Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest basketball players of all time, became a national joke. His assertion that he'd had sex with close to 20,000 women—to his dismay coinciding with the news that Magic Johnson was HIV-positive—was widely denounced and ridiculed. "Those who know me don't have a problem with that number," he says defiantly. "I wanted to get my point across, and I'd learned that numbers get people's attention."
The 7'1" Chamberlain's NBA numbers are impossible to ignore. He holds 72 league records, including one-game marks for scoring (100) and rebounding (55), and the single-season averages for scoring (50.4 in 1961-62) and rebounding (27.2 in '60-61). During his 14-year career Chamberlain led the '66-67 Philadelphia 76ers and the '71-72 Los Angeles Lakers to world championships, averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds, and was MVP four times.
His pride in amassing numbers, however, left the false impression that he was selfish on the court. His mere two titles—and the constant comparison to the 11 that Bill Russell won—have damaged his reputation more than bedroom braggadocio ever could. "Who was that old man you put on the cover last week?" he joked recently of SI's naming, in our May 10 issue, of Russell as the greatest team player ever. "I'm going to call and tell him he never looked so good."
As if he still needed to prove his phenomenal athletic ability, Chamberlain, 62, has attacked his retirement—he left the NBA in 1973—with vigor. He plays tennis, racquet-ball, team handball and volleyball, all with intensity and most with surprising skill. A champion shot-putter in high school in his hometown of Philadelphia and later at Kansas, Chamberlain also has poured himself into track and field, both as a competitor and a sponsor. "We all have regrets," he says. "Maybe if I'd been raised in California I'd be known for the decathlon rather than for missing foul shots." His passion for track led him to cofound, in 1998, the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, an annual race (scheduled for this Sunday in San Diego) that benefits the Leukemia Society of America.
When he's not testing himself, Chamberlain splits his time between houses in Los Angeles, Miami and Vancouver. Although he says he's "still a single man in search," any woman who wants to be the final number will have to wait. Wilt the Stilt shows no signs of slowing, never mind settling, down.