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Danny had just won a state title as a junior at Greensboro's Page High while playing for Mac Morris, who worked UNC's camps, ran UNC's system and was upset enough over Brown's scheming to publicly question his ethics. Danny says that he would most likely have committed to the Tar Heels, but once Ed was offered the Kansas job, there wasn't that much of a discussion. "It was the best thing for my family because it was the best thing for my dad—trucking was just too tough on his body, and he couldn't pass up a coaching job like that," Manning says. "And I didn't want to be away from my family so [Kansas] was an easy hard decision."
Now the coach at Tulsa after nine years as a Jayhawks assistant, Manning also considered his father to be more qualified than many skeptical media members or rival recruiters did. If he was being touted as the most skilled big man in the country, Manning thought, why would they not give credit to the dad who developed that talent?
The deal went down while Smith was in Spain, working a coaching clinic and taking a vacation with his wife. Upon landing in New York City on the return trip, Smith called his top assistant, Bill Guthridge, to check in and received the news: Brown had succeeded in moving the whole Manning family from Greensboro to Lawrence. Chamberlain's Jayhawks could not beat the Tar Heels in the 1957 national championship game, denying him his best shot at a title, and Chamberlain's old teammate Monte Johnson could not lure Smith back to his alma mater, but the Mannings were a monumental win for Kansas over Carolina.
The chase for Chamberlain was college basketball's first truly national recruiting battle, with some 200 schools offering scholarships. And it had everything in the way of subplots: Racial overtones. Boosters with fat wallets. NBA teams scheming for his draft rights. Spurned rivals, skeptical journalists and relentless NCAA investigators. Even Phog Allen's mixed motives.
KU's chancellor, Franklin D. Murphy, and his old college friend Dowdal Davis, the editor of the Kansas City Call, an African-American newspaper, wanted to find a change agent who could help the status of African-Americans in Kansas, which remained unofficially segregated except for parts of Kansas City. "What I have in mind," Murphy said to Davis in the early 1950s, according to the LIFE magazine file, "is to bring to the campus an outstanding athlete who will be able to demonstrate by his performance that the idea of unequal opportunity for all is really a stupid one." Murphy and Davis thought Wilt could be Kansas's version of Jackie Robinson.
Allen, on the other hand, sold Kansas as a progressive destination for an African-American star—or, at least, more progressive than Chamberlain's early favorite, Indiana. When Allen made his one visit to see Chamberlain in Philadelphia, in January 1955, the coach brought along black KU alumnus Lloyd Kerford, a wealthy businessman. Allen also enlisted Davis to visit Chamberlain's home and had black concert singer Etta Moten, another alum, write his family a letter extolling the virtues of the Kansas experience.
The approach worked well enough to get Chamberlain to commit that May—and then nearly backfired the following September, when he and Doug Leaman, a white Overbrook High teammate and fellow Jayhawks signee, made the 20-hour drive from Philly in Chamberlain's '51 Buick. They stopped to eat at a diner outside of Kansas City, Mo., and were told they would have to eat in the kitchen, out of sight of the rest of the patrons. Chamberlain had been shielded from this kind of prejudice during two well-scripted campus visits, and he was furious when he discovered the reality of the region's racial climate. He sped off to Allen's house in Lawrence and threatened to return to Philly if he ran into any more refusals of service. From that point on, with the backing of Allen's son Mitt, a lawyer, and Murphy, Chamberlain and his African-American friends integrated Lawrence establishments one by one by sitting down, daring anyone to ask them to leave.
At that time, the NCAA allowed boosters to help recruit athletes, but they were not permitted to pay them, though that happened often. In 1985, Chamberlain admitted in an AP story that he received approximately $4,000 in cash payments (the equivalent of $34,000 now) from a few boosters. He maintained close relationships with Skipper Williams, a millionaire investor who hosted Chamberlain's two visits to KU, and Roy Edwards, a rich former KU cheerleader whose home was a refuge for Chamberlain during his frequent visits to Kansas City. Allen told LIFE magazine that alumni had first started "to sweeten the pot" after World War II and referred to Edwards as a sports nut "who likes to bask in the glory of an alumnus who gets a boy. He called Wilt about once a week, you know."
But Chamberlain also said the money didn't start flowing until he played for the varsity, so as a freshman he had to rely on his campus jobs. He was a celebrity vendor of football programs, but Ron Loneski, a forward from Calumet City, Ill., who was that year's other star recruit, said he and Wilt had a second football-game gig: waving cars into an alumni parking lot, for which they'd receive excellent tips. "I remember Wilt and I sitting in the front seat of his beat-up car, counting the tips—$20 for me, $20 for you," Loneski says. "Every KU home game we'd make a couple hundred bucks apiece." Indiana coach Branch McCracken whined about the alleged payments from Kansas boosters, although Chamberlain later claimed that the IU boosters had offered to double whatever KU ponied up. Celtics president Walter Brown said that no NBA team could possibly pay [Chamberlain] "what he gets to go to college." (One reason Brown was upset: Chamberlain's selection of Kansas, a state that had no NBA team, helped the Philadelphia Warriors to secure his territorial draft rights in 1955 based on the location of his high school. While Chamberlain was working as a bellhop at Kutsher's Country Club in the Catskills during his high school summers, a guest named Red Auerbach suggested that he go to a school in New England, which would have made him property of the Celtics.)
Leaman, who left Kansas after two days due to homesickness, was playing for St. Joseph's in 1959 when he got pulled out of practice by an NCAA investigator and asked who had covered costs during Chamberlain's second campus visit, which the school wasn't allowed to fund. Wilt had left college in '58, after his junior season, for a one-year stint with the Harlem Globetrotters that paid him close to $100,000, but Leaman didn't want to risk any trouble. As he recalls, "I said the right thing: that we paid our own way." The NCAA eventually caught Kansas in '60 by proving that an unnamed booster made payments on Chamberlain's '56 Oldsmobile and banned the Jayhawks from the '61 and '62 postseasons. There had been far too much ruckus surrounding Chamberlain's recruitment for the NCAA to let it go.