SI Vault
 
I'M PUNCHY FROM BASKETBALL, BABY, AND TIRED OF BEING A VILLAIN
Wilt Chamberlain
April 12, 1965
Speaking out for the first time, the man who demolished basketball's record book says he is fed up with the sport that made him rich and, considering new fields, adds a word of warning for Sonny Liston
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
April 12, 1965

I'm Punchy From Basketball, Baby, And Tired Of Being A Villain

Speaking out for the first time, the man who demolished basketball's record book says he is fed up with the sport that made him rich and, considering new fields, adds a word of warning for Sonny Liston

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Oh, man, this is going to be better than psychiatry. In the first place, I am much too big to get comfortable on that crazy couch. In the second place, I am all fired up about speaking for myself this one time and have it come out the way I said it. I have a sort of special, savage reason for all this: there are a lot of people out there who will be surprised that I can write, because they are usually astounded that I can even talk. I know this is true, because I get the old routine all the time. I stopped getting angry about it years and years ago, but it still drives all my friends crazy. Whenever we're standing around together—man, I mean anyplace—crowds of people come up and just stare at us. Then someone will nudge one of my pals slyly and say, "Hey, who duh big guy?" or, "So that's old Wilt the Stilt, huh? How tall is he, really?" they say. And then, "Will you ask him can I have his autograph for my kid?" And then my friends sort of sidle away from me—they want to stand clear to show everybody I'm not on a leash or anything like that—and they say, "Come on. Wilt can talk, you know. He's a real human, man. How come you don't ask him yourself?" Then, once they get over that hurdle, people are always a little disappointed I don't say, "duuuhhhhhh." And that, in part, is what this story is all about. This is life inside a giant, baby.

I know that how I feel is not too important. All right. What is important is what has happened to make me feel the way I do and all of the psychological hammering and tugging and pulling that got me into this frame of mind. This is more than life inside a giant. This is the story of my life inside professional basketball—the greatest game ever played, a game that suffers from being bush when it doesn't want to be bush, a game that may always be bush unless some basic changes are made. And when we get to the end of this chapter, the part where they say, "Tune in next week," or the end of the story, where they say, "Can this poor monster from Philadelphia really find happiness?" you'll know just how it feels to be Goliath. How it feels to be seven feet and one-sixteenth inches tall with no place to hide. After all, you remember in the Old Testament that David had all the best of it, right? Nobody even thought to say or even ask how Goliath must have felt just sort of standing around there. Goliath didn't get any of the good lines, you know?

The timing of my story is important for three reasons.

Reason No. 1: I'm at the top of this game and I'm thinking of retiring. I will be perfectly honest and say I'm thinking of not retiring, too. But I have now racked up all the alltime scoring and playing records—all the ones that count—and what else is there? Final standings at the end of this season: Chamberlain leads the scoring, with 2,534 points, for the sixth year in a row. Chamberlain shoots 2,083 and hits 1,063 for a .510 average, or 34.7 points a game. And that's in 73 games; I didn't play them all. See what I mean? Man, I have fulfilled everything I wanted in pro basketball except winning the NBA title. And I can't do that all by myself, right?

Money has nothing to do with the way I feel. I have been investing my money under smart counseling for years. And even though my accountant, Alan Levitt, calls me every single day from Philadelphia and says something like "Run for the hills, baby, we're broke," it is still not critical.

I also have a sore stomach. Because of my size it is more sore stomach than you ever heard of. My doctor, Stanley Lorber, is considered the best internist in Philadelphia, and he can't find out what's wrong with it. But he gets a real kick out of examining me, and he uses me as a subject for lecturing his students. I think pretty soon I am going to start charging him. Ike Richman, part owner of the Philadelphia 76ers, feels so bad about my stomachache that he got real desperate last week and said, "I know. Let's go to a hypnotist." Man, a hypnotist—who, me? I thought I'd put Ike off, so I said, "Man, how much will you pay me to go and get hypnotized? A hundred dollars an hour?" And Ike said he'd do it. Anything to get me feeling back in shape. That's the kind of guy he is. But no matter what we do it keeps getting worse instead of better, and my health is going to figure big in my future. This is my summer of decision.

Reason No. 2: I'm thinking of doing a lot of things other than playing basketball. I am thinking of living my own life, for one thing.

I could take life easier and manage my apartment house properties and my nightclub in Harlem and the six corporations I'm tied up in—and be a business executive in a size-18 collar, button-down oxford-cloth shirt and the biggest hot-damn gray flannel suit you ever saw in your whole life. I have all kinds of other offers, including a role in a civil-rights movie based on the new book, Look Away, Look Away. I could go into boxing. And don't think for a minute I couldn't be heavyweight champion of the world. You hear me out there, Sonny Liston? You don't believe me? Look at that picture on the cover again, baby. I am also considering—but not too seriously—standing offers to enter professional baseball or football. But we've got to face it, I would fall with one hell of a crash on a football field (even though it might take more than one guy to bring me down). And while I might be hot stuff catching high ones in the outfield, even the wildest pitcher in baseball would murder me at home plate because I have got such a big strike zone.

Reason No. 3: Finally, I am tired of being a villain. It is not the role I had in mind when I entered this sport. I don't feel like a villain, and I don't think like a villain. And there are girls out there who insist I don't exactly look mean, either, you know? Never mind the mustache and beard, man. My mother thinks it looks awful, but the overall vote is in favor of it.

And I think I have spotted a trend away from that sort of thing. Villainy, I mean. In the oldtime days there was no sympathy for the big guys. Remember Bluto, the big, fat one in the Pop-eye cartoons? And he would always grab old Olive Oyl and run off with her, and Popeye would eat all that crazy (ugh) spinach and then kick the hell out of Bluto? Well, Bluto is pretty much out of it now. And take the case of Frankenstein's monster. He used to be a real heller and now even he has been gentled up on TV. Then, finally, there is a new kindly hero: the Jolly Green Giant. It's a trend, you see? Now, I don't exactly see myself as the Jolly Bronze Giant—I don't dig that leafy little costume, for one thing—but you get the theme.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7