On March 2, 1962 the Philadelphia Warriors hosted the New York Knicks in what was supposed to be a by the numbers NBA match-up. However, instead it was a game that went down in legend as Warriors player Wilt Chamberlain would score 100 points, a feat unmatched by any NBA player since.
Amazingly, this historic game was only witnessed by a relative handful of people. In the early ’60s, the NBA was struggling and its popularity was nowhere near that of college basketball. Nobody was particularly excited about this game: There were only five games left in the regular season and the Warriors were in second place in the Eastern Conference, eleven games behind the Boston Celtics, while the Knicks were the East’s worst team. The game was to be held in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the third of three “home” games played in the Chocolate City by the Warriors that season as part of the NBA’s attempt to grow its fanbase. The game was poorly attended, with the Hershey Sports Arena barely at half-capacity. As the Knicks were terrible, and baseball spring training was starting up, all of New York’s sports reporters were in Florida with none available to cover this match. Obviously, this somewhat meaningless contest wasn’t televised.
In 1962, Wilt Chamberlain was in his third year in the league and had already become basketball’s most dominating player. He was fast, and at 7′ 1” he was the league’s second tallest player. While Chamberlain was a master of the fadeaway jumper and finger roll, his weapon of choice was the slam dunk, which he used often, much to the dismay of basketball traditionalists who found it unsportsmanlike.
Before this game, Chamberlain was just 237 points short of scoring 4,000 points in the season which was an amazing accomplishment as no other player had even scored 3,000 points in a single season. He had already set the single game record for the most points scored (71) and in the week prior to the 100-point game, he had played three games in which he scored over 60 points. Many of his contemporaries believed that he could easily score 100 points in one game at some point. In the words of Celtics center Bill Russell, “[Chamberlain] has the size, strength, and stamina to score one hundred some night.” Interestingly, when he was in high school, Chamberlain once managed to score 90 points, leading the Philadelphia Inquirer to write, “Chamberlain might have hit 100 if he had played the entire 32 minutes.”
How important was the Warriors-Knicks game to Chamberlain? Well, he spent the night before in New York partying with a woman. He caught the train to Philadelphia and arrived tired and hungover before engaging in a long lunch with friends that nearly made him miss the team bus. The rest of the Warriors weren’t too thrilled either, as the Hershey Sports Arena was a cold and drafty building, and in the words of Warriors forward Tom Meschery, “The town of Hershey was built around a huge chocolate factory; everything there became permeated with the smell of chocolate. It was practically impossible to stay indoors; people felt sick. I was just dreaming to leave the place as fast as I could.”
The game started out relatively low key. By the end of the first quarter, the Warriors were winning 42–26 and Chamberlain already had 23 points. Relatively early in the match, Knicks center Darrall Imhoff, who was tasked with guarding Chamberlain, was benched after getting too many fouls. Imhoff blamed the referees, both of whom had never serve as a lead official, for his foul troubles, at one point yelling “Well, why don’t you just give the guy a hundred now and we’ll all go home!”
At the half, the Warriors were up 79–68 and Chamberlain had 41 points which was not atypical for him. Since the Warriors pretty much had the game locked down, Warriors guard Guy Rodgers suggested “Let’s get the ball to Dip [Chamberlain]. Let’s see how many he can get.” Head coach Frank McGuire agreed and in the third quarter the fun began.
The plan worked wonderfully. Chamberlain quickly brought his total up to 50 points, and despite the Knicks putting three or four men on him, he continued to score. By the end of the third, the Warriors were up 125–106, 69 of those points belonging to Chamberlain. Chamberlain was now four points from breaking his 73-point record for for the most points scored in regulation and nine away from breaking his 78-point record for the most points scored in a game with overtime.
In the fourth quarter, the arena’s announcer began to declare Chamberlain’s total points after every basket. The crowd began to chant “Give it to Wilt! Give it to Wilt!” and even the Warriors players stopped playing serious offense and just passed the ball to Chamberlain and watched him go. When he scored his 79th point, breaking his prior record, with 7:51 left on the clock, the crowd went crazy and after he made his 80th on a free throw, the crowd started yelling for 100. Chamberlain would later recall, “Man, these people are tough. I’m tired. I’ve got 80 points and no one has ever scored 80.”
As time wore on, Chamberlain continued to score and the Knicks knew they could not stop him, at best they could only contain him. So, they tried to burn the clock by constantly passing when they were on offense and then fouling every Warrior except Chamberlain, forcing the Warriors to take free throws so the Knicks could get the ball back. However, the Warriors were intent on getting Chamberlain to the century mark, so they started intentionally fouling the Knicks so they could get the ball back! By the end of the game, the Warriors had 25 fouls and the Knicks had 32.
Anyway, at the 2:12 mark Chamberlain scored his 96th point and at 1:19 he brought down his 98th point with a powerful slam dunk. Then, finally, with only 46 seconds left on the clock, Chamberlain got his 100th point. Accounts differ on whether it was an alley oop dunk or a simple lay up. Around 200 fans stormed the court to congratulate Chamberlain. Eventually, the court was cleared and Chamberlain spent the remainder of the game standing at center court. He’d later explain that 100 points sounded better than 102. The final score of the game was Warriors 169, Knicks 147. The two teams would play again on March 4 at Madison Square Garden where Knicks center Darrall Imhoff was given a standing ovation by the New York crowd for “holding” Chamberlain to only 58 points. Oscar Robinson, one of Chamberlain’s basketball rivals would later comment on the importance of the game and its effect on the then struggling NBA, “People heard about Wilt scoring a 100, averaging 50 a night, and they wanted to see the guy do it … I believe Wilt Chamberlain single-handedly saved the league.”So, to celebrate the 52nd anniversary of Chamberlain’s 100-point game, let’s mix a mighty cocktail called Warrior. It’s a really strong cocktail that’s a little like a brandy Manhattan, but with more kick. Warrior
- 1 ounce Sweet Vermouth
- 1 ounce Dry Vermouth
- 1/2 ounce Brandy
- 1/2 teaspoon Pernod
- 1/2 teaspoon Cointreau
Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
Tomorrow: Mardis Gras!