WILT CHAMBERLAIN © Port Whitman Times 1999
Before he was a national phenomenon, which he was even before he was a college star, Wilt Chamberlain was a local, a high school, a schoolyard wonder, who was called "Wilt The Stilt" (a name he hated), because of his height and then thin-ness, of course. Not that there were'nt tall, even 7' or 8' tall persons before, but here was one who was more than tall, not JUST a giant. Here was a giant that was coordinated like a panther, with the strength of an atlas. He could high-jump, he could put the shot. He could dribble pass and shoot a b-ball.
Being in college in West Philadelphia in the early 1950's, I was among the few who, in this early age of television, got the first look at Wilt, not that a tall basketball player was any-thing unusual, after all, I, at 5'10," had been a pall bearer for my Great Aunt Frances with my two Indiana second cousins, college players who were 6'9" and 6'10" respectively (I still imagine Aunt Frances rolling over in her tilted coffin as we descended the church steps), so being tall wasn't all there was to it. No, Wilt The Stilt, and I don't think he minded the name back when he was first approaching the 7' level, was definite-ly something else. As an underclassman in high school, he provided the outstanding sports visual moment of the decade, of the century really, and there it was, on the tube, a recent phenomenon too, for the world to see. But we in Philadelphia saw it first, watching in awe, jaws open, as a young man, a mere adolescent, jumped up and STUFFED the basketball DOWN into the basket.
Now I had been used to all manner of players, all styles of basketball, slow, fast, inside shooters who delayed release of the ball, outside shooters who pushed the ball up in a high arc, effecting a "swish," bank shots, hook shots, half-court hail-marys what actually went IN, the whole catalogue of shots since before high school, when I as a grade-schooler would practice in the backyard on the basket that my dad build out of pipe, wood slats, and a rim. This was the era where foul shots were still tossed, lobbed underhand with both hands, from a squat position, banking off the backboard with a little reverse spin. The two-hand long shot was still the norm, and the reverse layup was somewhat of a marvel. But I hadn't ever seen a STUFF! "Have you seen Wilt The Stilt stuff the Ball?" was the hip sports question of the day. No doubt about it, this was two points every time he got the ball, as sure as there's sky above and earth below. We could play the sight over and over only by switching channels (Phila-delphia had three) to catch the sports from another station. It just knocked you over every time you saw it, like watching a tall building imploded.
Not only could this kid jump up and slam the ball down through the hoop, making the net flounce back in the process, but he could BLOCK the shots of the opposing team by just standing under the basket and waiting for them to get it anywhere near. Something had to be done about this of course; it just wouldn't do, it would be contrary to all aspects of the game to have someone who could simply jump up and keep the ball from going in. There is no goalie in basketball, never was, never would be. So the "downward flight" rule and the "cylinder" rule, the "three-second" rule and the like had to be invented to preclude goal-tending, to let the game continue unhindered by human physical development. But the stuff-shot was so in-your-face, so watchable, so stunning in its effect, that it just HAD to stand, and of course it did. Thus basketball was changed forever.
That was the contribution of Wilt Chamberlain: In a moment, he single-handedly changed basketball, changed the sport the way we saw it and played it, brought it into the new era, the fruits of which we see today. Now everybody stuffs. Why, even Larry Bird, the greatest long-shooter of all time, could stuff when called upon. Sure, white kids can jump. We learned it from the Wilts. Even the little guys jump up like grasshoppers and jam the ball down through the threads, as if it might backfire if not enough force was used, then have to hold on to the hoop to keep from falling in their heads. New space-age materials have to be used to keep the backboards from shattering under the weight of a Dawkins or a Barkley. As to Wilt, there have been better dribblers, shooters, even dunkers than Wilt Chamberlain, those who could maneuver around or under him, outscore him from the outside, but nobody, nobody except Wilt, did it FIRST, and for those of us who witnessed it first, it was an unforgettable moment, an indelible picture. Our world was changed. Henry Francisco
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New Camden Times
The mind of a fool
Unrestricted by sense,
Free rein given thence
To rejoinders uncool
The host who invites you to dinner
Might not be an absolute winner,
But hey, the food's gratis
Consider your status
Enacting a role of tale-spinner
Being old and infirm-ish
Avoiding a skirmish
With youths who are sturdy
Might tag one as nerdy
Feeling a little bit worm-ish
Dents in our senses
Strike the world in which we live
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(Better strengthen our defenses)
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So whattayagonna do?
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Before you bid life adieu