SI Vault
Ray Cave
October 30, 1961
Philadelphia's problem player, Wilt Chamberlain, gets a strong new coach—who may also force the pro game to change its brawling, hustling ways
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October 30, 1961

Mcguire Raises A Standard

Philadelphia's problem player, Wilt Chamberlain, gets a strong new coach—who may also force the pro game to change its brawling, hustling ways

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This is the team McGuire faced last month. A neat, orderly man whose mind wears a white shirt, McGuire packed 18 neckties, three suits and four sport coats, bid his wife, three children and grandchild goodby, and joined the Warriors at their Hershey, Pa. training site.

Accustomed to the drill-team efficiency of his Carolina organization, where the managers who aided him had corps of their own assistants, he was aggrieved when he found nobody waiting to introduce him formally to the Warrior squad, much less handle petty administrative details. "This," he briskly confided, "is going to change."

His first real meeting with Chamberlain took place in Wilt's room at Hershey's nice—but Hershey's second-best—hostelry, the Cocoa Inn. McGuire had spent $400 on phone calls inquiring about Chamberlain. He had talked with Dick Harp, who had coached Wilt at the University of Kansas, and Clair Bee, whose basketball clinic employs Chamberlain in the summer. "Wilt responds to leadership by someone he respects," Harp had said, and that summed up what McGuire learned.

"That first meeting," reports McGuire, "I told Wilt that I realized he was a famous player with a national reputation to consider. Then I said I had a national reputation to consider, too." This simple statement may well have established the first player-coach relationship of Wilt's career solidly based on mutual respect. "Wilt said he was willing to try anything I thought would help the team," McGuire adds. "With that attitude and all his talent I found myself wondering if the uncoachable Chamberlain might not be a coach's dream."

McGuire then called a team meeting. It lasted two hours. " Mr. McGuire told us he'd never coach anything but a happy team," recalls Chamberlain, "and that a happy team sticks together. He talked pretty blunt. He has a code of ethics and you know he's going to stick by those ethics, win or lose. You have to respect this man."

"When I walked in that meeting," said little Guy Rodgers. "I never believed we would all come out smiling. But we did."

While the Warriors were still in a smiling mood McGuire surprised them some more. He started their training with college drills of a type long ignored by pros. He sent them bouncing up and down the court in a squatting defensive stance that sets leg muscles twinging with pain. Chamberlain became the leader in these drills, bobbing and swooping happily like a giant grasshopper, and gleefully shouting "get down there" when a tired teammate began to edge upright.

McGuire had the team play Tiger in the Circle, in which one man tries to get the ball from two who pass it around him. The Warriors had dribbling races, which Chamberlain excelled at, and foot races, which he also always won. Though he is 7 feet 2 he is incredibly faster than anyone else on the team. On the technical side, McGuire also worked on fundamentals of strategy, normally taught at the college level. And he made one important shift in personnel, moving Tom Gola, who had played guard for five seasons in the NBA, up to forward. This is to help Chamberlain with rebounding, and allow the Warriors to use two small quick guards and a faster-breaking offense. "We might get away with it," McGuire said candidly, "and we might not." In several exhibition games the Warriors got away with it just fine.

If the drills were new and tactics different, some of McGuire's other precepts were just as shocking by pro league standards. He told the Warriors they would not argue with referees, nor would they criticize a teammate on the floor. "You will take credit for the wins," he said, "and I will take the blame for the losses. I have now relieved you of any responsibility for coaching or officiating. See how simple your life is getting." He asked that the team sit down around him during time-outs, not wander about the court. He requested plenty of encouraging chatter from the players on the bench. And somehow he got it all across in a gentle and gentlemanly fashion that impressed the Warriors.

"Wilt missed 500 foul shots last year," said McGuire one day. "I wonder if he would like to try shooting them underhanded." The next day not-so-uncoachable Wilt was trying the underhand foul shot. He is still shooting fouls that way, after too many years of experimenting with different styles—one reason for his, poor free-throw record.

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