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Archive for Saturday, January 23, 1993

WILT SOFTENING TOWARD RETURN?

January 23, 1993

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Acquaintances Dick Sengpiehl and Lou Michel recently asked me a question that's been on a lot of Jayhawk-oriented minds for 35 years: What got Wilt Chamberlain's nose so out of joint as far as keeping in touch with Kansas University?

Wish I had one of David Letterman's ``Top 10'' lists, but nobody seems to know. Maybe Bob Billings, a longtime friend, adviser and KU teammate of Wilt, knows something special. He's never revealed it.

Yet there's good news. A number of KU people, perhaps the Prince of Alvamar among 'em, have been in touch with The Big Dipper. There seems a moderate chance the ice will be broken by getting Chamberlain back to have his famed jersey ``13'' hoisted in Allen Fieldhouse along with those of other legends.

I'd bet coach Roy Williams will be a major factor in any success toward getting Wilt to renew his linkage. Nobody can sell KU tradition, loyalty and heritage better than this guy, even though he sprang from Carolina Blue. On a good day, Roy could sell cold chili to Eskimos.

Lotsa folks want to show Wilt he can come home again. Even the stoic Dipper might shed a tear at the ovation he'd get during such a ceremony.

ONE GUY you'd think might have an idea why Chamberlain has been back here so seldom, and hasn't been zealous a salesman for KU, is Waldo ``Bud'' Monroe. Bud's been a KU security man, is a barber and cut Wilt's hair during the three years he was at KU.

``Never said anything to me,'' said Bud. ``Only time I remember he's been back was at a KU-Oklahoma State football game some years ago. ... We've had no contact. Never been sure why.''

Wilt played here as a sophomore (1956-57) and junior (1957-58) freshmen weren't eligible. The NBA wouldn't accept collegians until their freshman class had graduated. The Dipper left here to turn Harlem Globetrotter for a year before joining the Philadelphia Warriors. He said he was leaving college because of zone defenses that clogged the paint and prevented him from doing his best. He also liked the money, like the $10,000 bonus which let him buy a new red Oldsmobile convertible that was so long it needed hinges to get around corners.

Wilt had a used Olds while here, one purchased under non-kosher procedures that got KU on probation. He wanted another car. When told KU couldn't allow such a show of wealth, he was not happy.

COULD BE, too, that Wilt felt unappreciated and later sensed resentment that he'd jumped ship a year early. People weren't readily forgiving, especially after KU tailed off to 11-14 during what would have been Wilt's senior year.

Chamberlain worked in the civil rights movement, helping to get local barber shops, movies, taverns and other places integrated. He wasn't always favorably greeted on that score; maybe there's some sting left from that.

Three things Wilt has always gravitated to, besides incredible excellence on the basketball court money, cars and women. He claimed in his latest book he's had something like 20,000 sexual trysts since the age of 15.

But he's had all the things he wanted and more since leaving. You'd think he'd welcome coming back to the old digs. Might not happen, but I hear things are riper than they ever have been to end his absence. Both Wilt and KU-Lawrence would be a lot better for the reunion.

THE LATE Hank Iba of basketball coaching fame was noted for his discipline and refusal to accept less than one's best, but the tough, demanding Oklahoma State legend had a great sense of humor.

(True story. One of his former players went back to the OSU campus for a visit and was walking along smoking a cigarette. He saw ``Mr. Iba'' come out of a door and quickly doused the fag, saying later: ``I'm a grown man with a family but I still didn't want him to see me smoking.'' The crusty coach influenced a lot of people.)

I never saw Hank laugh harder than the time in 1952 when he was on the same plane taking Phog Allen and his Kansas basketball team to the NCAA Final Four in Seattle. The plane was stacked up in miserable weather, circling the airport. Phog, Iba, KU star Clyde Lovellette and a batch of others like I were in one section of the flying whale.

Phog was obviously worried about the prospects of a crash. He never liked planes much. Lovellette was never funnier in joking about the situation, and Iba sat there howling with the rest of us. Hank about fell out of his seat when Lovellette grabbed one of the decorative bouquets off the wall (they had such things then) and placed it in Phog's nervous hands.

``Don't worry, Doc,'' said Clyde. ``You've got on a good suit, you've got flowers, and if we pile in, they can take you straight to the funeral home.'' Even Allen had to cackle at that one, but not as loudly as the red-faced, teary-eyed Hank Iba.

Nobody enjoyed a good laugh more than the legendary Mr. Iba.

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