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Fiasco at the foul line
Frank Dolson
December 05, 1960
Chamberlain is the NBA's best-paid player, but he can't take advantage of his gifts
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December 05, 1960

Fiasco At The Foul Line

Chamberlain is the NBA's best-paid player, but he can't take advantage of his gifts

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Wilt chamberlain the 7-foot 1-inch giant who is paid more than $1,000 per game (over a 75-game season) to dunk a basketball through a hoop, stood on the foul line at Penn's Palestra the other day. The superstar of the Philadelphia Warriors was practicing foul shots after a team workout.

Wilt, who has set National Basketball Association records in scoring, rebounding and salary, moved to the left of the foul line, palmed the ball in his huge right hand and shot. The ball hit the rim, 15 feet away, and bounced off.

"See what I mean," he said, shaking his head disgustedly. "I got so much English on my shot that all I have to do is touch that rim and the blankety-blank ball won't drop."

The records show that Chamberlain has been hitting the rim all season—missing about 60% of his foul shots. Remarkably, he has a better shooting percentage on field goals than on fouls.

"Any high school kid could do better," Syracuse's Dolph Schayes said recently after Chamberlain missed 18 of 27 fouls as Philadelphia lost a game by one point. "It's ridiculous," claimed Schayes, who normally hits on 90% of his fouls. Chamberlain's free-throw average is .384. The average for all professional players last year was .734. A good high school player should average .666.

"What Schayes says doesn't bother me," snapped Wilt in a tone that indicated it does. "I don't think it's wise for one athlete to knock another. But that's his business—freedom of speech and that sort of thing, you know."

Chamberlain, who earns his $80,000-plus salary by playing the full 48 minutes of almost every game, has become thoroughly confused on the foul line. "Over the years," he conceded, "I've been getting consistently worse. I used to be pretty good in high school, but I haven't had a good night that I can remember in the pros. It must be mental." His latest gimmick has been to shoot from the left of the foul line, at an angle, "because I take most of my floor shots from that side. I've been using my thumb more to get English on my floor shots, banking them off the board," he explained. "That's why, subconsciously, I've been stressing my thumb on the foul line, too. It gives the ball too much English for foul shots. But why should I change and louse up my floor shots?

"It upsets me, all right," he said, heading for the dressing room at the end of his drill. "I keep saying I don't let it bother me. But whenever you find yourself saying that, then you know it is bothering you."

The margin of victory

Neil Johnston, Wilt's coach, is bothered too. He figures his star would add "about six points per game" to his average by learning to shoot fouls. And six points is often the difference between victory and defeat.

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