I think I may have a niche in writing. I never would've dreamed of this a few years ago—that I could sit down and write some things that people really would want to read, and have something to say that's worthwhile. Maybe I should write a column. The only thing about a column is, it's regimentation.
WC: Yeah. That's why Wilt Chamberlain left basketball, because he was through with regimentation. Maybe if I could write, say, 50 columns at one time.
SI: Writing a book affords you the opportunity to edit yourself. But, if anything, you're more outspoken in A View from Above than you are in person.
WC: I'll tell you why. It's because you write for yourself. When you write, you're still thinking it's a private matter between you and the pen, you understand? And you put these private matters down. Then, all of a sudden, someone else reads them.
Like with the ladies. The 20,000 ladies that caused all that furor. It was put down in context, to let people know about Wilt Chamberlain's life. Hey, I'm 30 years out on the road, as I say in the book. I only gave a number [of women] so that people would recognize what I meant by "many, many ladies." Like if I said, "I'm a basketball player and I scored a lot of points," you wouldn't have any idea that I scored 100 points in a single game or averaged 50 points for a season.
SI: But surely, at this point in your life, you 're wise enough in the ways of the media to have anticipated that your paragraph about the 20,000 women....
WC: Absolutely, without a doubt. You do some things for effect, you understand? And I knew damn well this was going to have some effect. My gardener went to get some feed for his horses in some small town, 300 miles from L.A., and he heard two old ladies talking: "Did you hear that Wilt Chamberlain's seen 20,000 women?" He couldn't believe it.
But you hope that a little sensationalism will not take away from what you're trying to say. When Phil Donahue's people called me to do a show on promiscuity, I told them no. I'm not an expert on that, and that's not what the book's about. Some people try to use you in particular ways, and I will not be used.
SI: Magic Johnson's announcement that he is HIV-positive must have put some unwelcome spin on your statements.