SI Vault
 
MY IMPACT WILL BE EVERLASTING
Wilt Chamberlain
October 07, 1974
Unworried about his place in the history and record books, one of pro sport's dominant figures announces he is quitting basketball for good
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 07, 1974

My Impact Will Be Everlasting

Unworried about his place in the history and record books, one of pro sport's dominant figures announces he is quitting basketball for good

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5

I have a friend who owns a soccer team in London, but I'm not into soccer at this point. One time I was out walking in London and saw some boys, about 12 years old, getting ready to play soccer in a park. I asked if I could get in the game. They said, well, we'll choose sides and see how it comes out. I could see after a while that it was going to come out that I would be chosen last or not at all. It came out not at all. And then in the airport when I got off the plane after that same trip to Europe, a man from the Atlanta professional soccer team came up to me and offered me six figures to play goalie. First they would teach me how to play.

As I look back on my career, I feel really sad about one thing. I was a scorer. But for the sake of offensive flow, and to keep other people happy, I was asked to give up scoring. I think it's pretty ridiculous to ask the greatest scorer in the game to do that. I used to feel kind of silly sometimes passing the ball off to guys who had half the chance I did of putting it in. Don't you think it would have been sad if the owner of the Braves had asked Hank Aaron to stop hitting home runs because if he hit them everybody else would want to, and they can't do it as well, so would he please hit singles to keep everybody happy? That's a hell of a parable but you know what I'm saying: now you got Hank Aaron bunting.

"Wilt, sublimate yourself to Elgin and Jerry," they said, and their averages went up and mine went down. But, hey, I was a better scorer than they were. So why didn't it work the other way?

Frank McGuire felt that you utilize your greatest gifts. If Wilt can score 50 points a game at 50% shooting, you use psychology on the other players to get them to accept it. Not too many people remember the days when I was shooting jump shots. My game used to be much more diversified. It got regimented by what coaches wanted me to do.

There's a sort of unfortunate thing about basketball: you play the game to score points, but when a player scores a lot of points they call him selfish. You never heard Russell called selfish, but I blocked more shots and got more rebounds than he did Nobody shoots more than John Havlicek, he throws it up like mad. But he's not called selfish—and he isn't. Jerry and Elgin never won a championship until recently, but they're not called losers or selfish.

Free throws are something I'll always be sorry about. How can you make 80 or 90 of 100 in practice and not be able to make 45% in a game? Even though, I'll bet my clutch free-throw shooting percentage is as high as most. Ike Richman, a friend of mine with the 76er organization, paid for me to talk to a psychiatrist about foul shots. I don't think I'm a schizo. I think I'm fairly stable. But I'd go in there and see this analyst, and come out shooting worse. He talked to me about all the things you would talk about to a disturbed patient. I enjoyed it because I guess we all think we're a little bit of an amateur psychiatrist. I surely do. I wanted to see how the professionals did it. Unfortunately, and not to demean the guy, I don't think he found out a thing about me. I got to psychoanalyzing him. So after about 13 weeks I quit. And now I'm qualified in psychiatry—but still a lousy foul shooter.

I'm satisfied with what I've done in the sports world. I walk down the street and people come past me jogging, and I see a whole lot of them are wearing headbands. Three or four years ago nobody but me wore a headband. Fans would go "woo-woo-woo," give me the Indian call. Now it's all over the damn country, headbands and wristbands. Somebody has to start everything.

It may not sound humble to say it, but I think my impact on basketball is going to be everlasting. In a lot of ways it may be harmful. I got the first big contracts, and now it's reached the point that stars are coming out of college with four-and five-year no-cut deals, which sometimes keep more capable players off a team. Last year almost all the pro basketball teams lost money. I tried to get the ABA to cut down the number of games. "Are the players willing to take pay cuts?" they asked. I hate to say it, but I think a lot of players would play even more games if they got more money.

My impact. They make a big thing of Aaron breaking Babe Ruth's record, but I may hold 90% of all the records in basketball. I don't think one man has ever broken so many records and gotten so little credit for it.

And think of the rule changes alone. When George Mikan was playing the game, they had a little six-foot lane. When I came into college they immediately started changing rules. The lane got wider and wider. Offensive goaltending was made illegal. When I was in college they'd throw the ball inbounds over the top of the basket and I'd jump up and dunk it. Why did they have to stop me from doing things? If a back runs the 100 in 9.5, does he have to start from farther behind the line of scrimmage? If a lineman weighs 300 pounds, does he have to use only one arm?

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5