After 50 years, Reggie recalls Wilt's gem
One of baseball's greats present for historic NBA performance
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Long before we were on a first-name basis with Michael, Kobe and LeBron, the NBA gave us Wilt, the singular majesty of Wilton Norman Chamberlain, an unequaled offensive force we came to know also as "The Big Dipper" or "Wilt The Stilt." And before Ozzie, Derek, Albert and Prince became familiar one-name celebrities in the big leagues, there was Reggie, one singular sensation -- Reginald Martinez Jackson.
First-name references made it easier for the rest of us. Why confuse the issue with surnames? There were/are so many Jacksons. Reggie was more readily distinguished with merely first-name reference. With apologies to Sanders, Smith, Theus, Miller, White and Bush, there's still is only one Reggie who can get by without additional identification.
And because Chamberlains were and are far fewer -- name another besides Wilt, Neville, Richard and Joba -- Wilt was quite readily identified by one name. How many Wilts are there?
Their careers overlapped -- from 1967, Reggie's rookie year with the A's of Kansas City, to 1973, Wilt's final season with the Lakers. The two legendary athletes, one born in Philadelphia, the other born some 90 miles to the west in Pennsylvania, never played in the same city. Theirs were two worlds as different as Rhode Island and Rhodesia. But they had one thing in common -- each had high regard for Wilt.
So it was 50 years ago Friday when Wilt scored 100 points to make himself the Man of the Century, and the Man of the Month was there to witness it.
Many of us recall where we were when Mr. October hit three home runs in a World Series game in 1977. But so few can recall where they were when the Philadelphia Warriors center dropped 100 on the Knickerbockers in the relative privacy of Hershey, Pa. So few of us even knew it was happening. But Reggie knew.
"I was there," Reggie says with pride. "I was there that night. One hundred. I saw it. How does one man score 100 points in one game?"
The need for that rhetorical question came March 2, 1962, when fact and fiction, myth and might, the irresistible force and the Knicks' defense came together to create a night of basketball wonder for a future baseball hero.
"Wilt was my favorite player, my favorite athlete," Reggie says.
Reggie, his father and his brother were there.
"My father had a dry-cleaning business in Lower Marion," Reggie said. "We cleaned the clothes of rich people. He had to make deliveries about 20 miles from Hershey, so he took us. We saw something very few people saw."
Attendance that night in an antiquated arena, including the three Jacksons, was merely 4,124. Few New York papers covered the game. The wire services sent stringers. No visual record exists, and most of the audio is from the fourth quarter only. But Reggie can speak of Wilt's night. He did on Thursday afternoon from Southern California.
"It wasn't that he took 60-something shots -- he hit 28 of 32 foul shots," Reggie said of Wilt. "That was a good night for anyone. I remember when he got close to 100, people started chanting. They wanted to see it. Has that ever happened for a player? What a great performance!"
Reggie witnessed an astonishing accomplishment, one that exceeds his 1977 trifecta against the Dodgers. Babe and Albert also hit three in a World Series game. The box score provides merely a glimpse. Wilt scored 23, 18, 28 and 31 points by quarters; he hit 36 of 63 field-goal attempts. And when the Knicks implemented a prehistoric form of Hack-a-Shaq, a career .511 free throw shooter hit 87.5 percent of his attempts. And they called the '62 Mets Amazin'!
Wilt also had a rather pedestrian -- for him -- 25 rebounds.
What the box score doesn't provide are the wonderful anecdotes that surround the game, three of which delighted Jackson.
The Warriors arrived at the arena quite early and found little to occupy their hours. An old narrow-legged, plastic-box shooting gallery was in the lobby. The players took turns. A longtime security guard told them the record was 6,000. Wilt shot 6,600 that night. (An online video with Al Attles, Wilt's teammate in the 1961-62 season, has Attles speaking of Wilt telling him, "I was hot.")
Days before the 100-point game, United Press International had urged its reporters not to limit the leads of their NBA game stories to one player. So the stringer covering the Knicks-Warriors game that night filed this lead: "HERSHEY, Pa. -- Wilt Chamberlain and Al Attles combined for 117 points last night as the ..." (It's probably apocryphal).
With one day remaining in the 1977-78 NBA regular season, George Gervin of the Spurs and David Thompson of the Nuggets were virtually tied for the highest scoring average. Each played in a game on the final day, Gervin scoring 63 points to put his average at 27.22. Thompson scored 73, at the time the most in NBA history by anyone not named Wilt.
Consider this: The 73 points Thompson scored left him 27 points short of Wilt's total. Twenty-seven-plus was his average. So, in a game in which he scored as many points as he could, Thompson fell one average game short of what Wilt achieved. The second-leading scorer in the league for that season needed another four quarters of average play to reach 100. Startling when viewed through that prism.
Made aware of it, Thompson was stunned.
"I had 58 at the half. And I was exhausted," Thompson said years ago. "Wilt was running from one end of the court to the other. I was going from the top of the key to the top of the key, and they were setting picks all over for me. I could barely walk by the end of the third quarter. How did Wilt do that?"
Reggie's reaction: "So Wilt was one full game better. I wonder if he knew that. He would have liked that."
Jackson still marvels at the achievement.
"He's the only one to get to 100," Reggie said. "And no one's come close."
Kobe Bryant scored 81 points in a game in 2006. And that's not close.
"The equal in our game would have to have be at least five home runs," Reggie said. "No one's done that."
But Joe Adcock doubled in his four-homer game at Ebbets Field in 1954. His double hit the wall two feet from the top, so he came quite close. Pete Rose was aware of that double, so, years ago, he determined the baseball equivalent of Wilt's game was "five homers, a double and ... a long sacrifice fly."
"Can't be a perfect game; there've been -- what? -- 14 or 15 perfect games," Reggie said.
Reggie considered a 7-for-7 game, but that's already been done twice -- Rennie Stennett in 1975 and Wilbert Robinson in 1892.
"Twenty-four strikeouts in a game," was Reggie's next suggestion. But is that realistic unless Mark Reynolds, Drew Stubbs and Jack Cust are teammates facing Justin Verlander in twilight?
Then again, was a 100-point game ever a realistic notion? Even now, it isn't.
"Wilt probably was the only who ever thought about it before he did it," Reggie said. "Now, people can think of matching it. But no one can come close. Yeah, so I saw one of the great athletic achievements of all time.
"Wilt was a great track man, too -- high jumper, runner. What an athlete he was! He might have been great in anything he tried. I did a card show with him and Bill Russell. I was very impressed with both of them. Wilt gave me a picture that he had signed to me: 'Reggie, you're lucky I never pitched to you.'"
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.