Wilt Chamberlain (1936-1999), a former center in the NBA, continues to be one of the most recognized names in basketball. But no one is quite sure just how good he was. Most know the numbers: averaging 50 points and 25 rebounds per game for an entire season, scoring 100 points in a single game, leading the league in every recorded statistic at one point and being the most dominant offensive forces of the NBA in the 1960s.
Many pundits and fans gladly acknowledge “Wilt the Stilt” as one of the 10 greatest players ever. But a small collection of stories that have been collected by a subset of super-fans suggests that he may very have been the greatest athlete who has ever lived.
Listed at 7 feet 1 inch, 275 lbs., it’s been said that Chamberlain had a 48-inch vertical, could bench press 465 pounds, and slept with 20,000 women over the course of his lifetime.
Of course, when these rumors began flooding the internet, it was easy to dismiss them as tall tales (no pun intended) and part of Wilt’s legend. While his sexual exploits are most definitely an exaggeration, the other stories actually have basis.
Thanks to the NBA subreddit on reddit.com, Wilt’s legacy lives on. Not only did users on the site dig up footage of Wilt picking up a grown man, they also amassed a collection of similarly impressive anecdotes.
Arnold Schwarzenegger used to workout with Chamberlain and said on a Grantland video that “he would do tricep extension … the strongest guys would do 120 lbs., he would come in and do 150-170 lbs. … That’s how strong he was.” Schwarzenegger remembered that Wilt “lifted [him] up with one arm like [it was] nothing,” and that Chamberlain and Andre the Giant would make Schwarzenegger “look like a fly.”
According to another story, former NBA public relations director Haskell Cohen needed a tire changed. Chamberlain was just 17, working at the local repair shop. Frustrated and unable to change his tire without a jack, Cohen looked to Chamberlain, who proceeded to singlehandedly lift the car up high enough for Cohen to change the tire. While he did not actually change the tire, Chamberlain displayed strength on a level unprecedented for an NBA athlete from any era.
As if Wilt’s legend was not already as extensive as the (alleged) notches in his belt, his speed and track accomplishments set him a cut above the rest. Once again thanks to Reddit, Chamberlain’s results from “Superstars,” a show where professional athletes competed across various sports, were revealed. Chamberlain’s numbers for track and field were mind blowing, to say the least. In the 100-yard dash (about nine meters shorter than the 100-meter iteration), Wilt finished at a near-Olympian level of 10 seconds.
Moreover, in a self-reported 40-yard dash time (the test used to test speed at the NFL combine) from his days at Kansas University, Wilt clocked a 4.4 (4.3 is considered world-class speed) as a 7-footer weighing 260 pounds.
While known to exaggerate, Chamberlain certainly was not completely full of hot air. In fact, he was quite the opposite. Nearly every critic of Chamberlain, especially those who argue that weak competition inflated his statistics, contends that he could not dominate in today’s NBA the way he did in the 1960s and 70s. But his physical prowess suggests otherwise.
With inhuman strength, incredible speed and, according to Scott Ostler’s “The Leaping Legends of Basketball,” the rumored ability to dunk on a 12-foot basketball hoop (regulation is 10), Wilt in his prime would be an unstoppable force in the NBA today. Sure, there are knocks on his ego and his alleged lack of competitive fire, especially compared to his all-time rival, Bill Russell. But make no mistake: Wilt the Stilt was a world-class athlete in every sense of the world. Given the information the internet and modern media has already revealed about him (and probably will reveal in the future), he not only has a case as one of the greatest athletes to ever play in the NBA, but also as one of the greatest athletes who has ever lived.
Paolo Santamaria is a sophomore in the College. Saxa Synergy appears every Friday.
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