Myth #1-“He had no competition.”
Every time I hear this statement, I shake my head. Every time someone describes Chamberlain’s era, they usually say something along the lines of, “He played against a bunch of skinny and short white guys. That’s the only reason he was any good.” Well let us look at the “skinny unathletic white guys” Chamberlain faced.
Bill Russell– This “skinny white guy” was a five-time league MVP and the cornerstone of one of the greatest dynasties in league history, the 60s Boston Celtics. Russell’s teams lost only twice in the playoffs. Once to the then St. Louis Hawks in the 1958 NBA Finals when Russell sprained his ankle in game three and missed the rest of the series. The next loss came to Wilt’s Sixers in 1967. Russell, similar to Chamberlain, was a track star during his days at the University of San Francisco. Even Track and Field News ranked him in 1956 as the seventh best high jumper on the planet. Not bad for a “skinny white guy.”
Nate Thurmond- This “skinny white guy” was a former teammate of Chamberlain’s during their time with the Warriors. He initially didn’t receive much playing time due to being Wilt’s backup but after Wilt was traded to the Sixers in 1965, Thurmond blossomed into a two-way star. The 6’11 Akron Ohio native combined cat-like quickness on defense, a nonstop motor on the glass, and a soft inside shooting touch. His first year starting he made the all-star team, averaging 16 points and 18 rebounds per game. Thurmond went on to make six more all-star appearances in his hall of fame career. Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, the league’s all-time leading scorer, once described Thurmond as his toughest defender. “He plays me better than anybody ever has,” he said. “”He’s tall, has real long arms, and most of all he’s agile and strong. “When I score on Nate, I know I’ve done something. He sweats and he wants you to sweat, too.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabaar- This “skinny white guy’ didn’t accomplish much over his 20-year career. He only scored more points than anyone in league history, captured six league MVP awards, and had one of the most unguardable offensive moves in the skyhook. Although Wilt was at the tail end of his career with the Lakers, he and Kareem numerous battles when Kareem, then known as Lew Alcindor, was in Milwaukee. The two faced each other 127 times total with 11 of those coming in the postseason. During their first 11 meetings, Wilt averaged 22 points and 17 rebounds against a young Jabaar. Keep in mind Wilt was 36 coming off two knee surgeries.
Walt Bellamy– This “skinny white guy” averaged 20 points and 13 rebounds per game over his 14-year-career. The six foot 11 big is one of only seven players in league history to score over 20000 points and grab 14000 rebounds for his career. Since he played in the same era as big men such as Russell and Wilt, Bellamy’s career is overlooked. A quick story about Bellamy’s first matchup against Wilt. In his rookie season, Bellamy’s Chicago Packers, a now extinct franchise, faced off against Wilt’s Warriors. Before tip-off, Bellamy says, “Hello Mr.Chamberlain. I’m Walt Bellamy.” Wilt responds, “Hello Walter. You won’t get a shot off in the first half.” Wilt then proceeds to block Bellamy’s first nine shot attempts. At the start of the second half Wilt says, “Okay Walter now you can play.”
Wilt not only played multiple hall of famers, but his competition was not “short 6-6 white guys.” Let’s take a look at the height of some more of the big men from Wilt’s era.
Swede Halbrook C 7-3
Darrall Imhoff C 6-10
Ray Felix C 6-11
Wayne Yates C 6-8
Bevo Nordmann C 6-10
Walter Dukes C 7-0
Keep in mind that players during this era, pre 1980 to be exact, were all measured barefoot. Their playing height was one or two inches taller than what they were listed.