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Archive for Friday, March 10, 1995

S TIME FOR KASNAS TO STOP PURSUING CHAMBERLAIN

March 10, 1995

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It's time for Kansas University and its athletic department to shake a perceived inferiority complex about Wilt Chamberlain. They don't owe him a thing. He got every bit as much as he gave around here. Some think more.

A recent Kansas City Star article made KU appear to be brooding about Wilt's reluctance to to be lionized by his alma mater. If so, why?

Heck, if Wilt's nursing some bruise to keep him from accepting an honor a lot of people would die for, let him alone. He's the loser. The deprivee isn't KU. So Chamberlain scored a few points, snagged some rebounds and blocked lots of shots in his two-year Kansas basketball career, and has made other halls of fame.

The greatest honor comes from the people you've lived with, Phog Allen used to say. If Wilt doesn't consider us prairie peasants worthy of kissing his royal ring, why not focus on the many fine people who treasure and appreciate recognition?

KU's done everything it can to get the big fellow back for a jersey dedication in Allen Fieldhouse. The shirt is even framed and awaiting a visit by His Majesty. But quit begging. The ball's in his court. If he shows up, make him welcome; otherwise, move on to important things.

It's demeaning for Jayhawk people to keep chasing after an arrogant Wilt when he's obviously not inclined to favor us with his first official presence since 1975. Hell, the university, its tradition and its basketball program are a lot more important than one guy who has his nose out of joint for some reason about which nobody's certain.

The harder KU pursues him, the more likely he is to stay scarce. It's like the grandkid you keep chasing: The harder you try to cuddle him, the more distant he tries to be. Ignore him, he suddenly gets interested. If The Dipper isn't interested, so what?

Maybe some day Wilt will realize what he -- not KU -- is missing and decide to be a more friendly and humble in his old age. If that doesn't happen, it's his misfortune.

The retired jerseys hanging in the fieldhouse should be there -- Paul Endacott, the two Charlie Blacks, Lynette Woodard, B.H. Born, Danny Manning and Clyde Lovellette. But give me 15 minutes and I can pick out at least 20 other guys who are in that class. Probably more, who in my book deserve to be honored with jersey retirements before KU busts any more guts to entreat Wilt to be honored by a school that deserves better.

Just how hard up is KU to mollycoddle His Surliness? On the basis of what they did and have done as KU basketeers and alumni, I'd nail the jerseys of Nolen Ellison, Maurice King, Jo Jo White, the Kelley brothers, Howard Engleman, Dick Harp, Fred Pralle, any number of other incredible guys on the wall before I'd beg Wilt to bless KU with a ceremonial hegira.

Wilt ran out on Kansas. After his junior season, he joined the Harlem Globetrotters because the NBA pros then couldn't take a guy before his college class had graduated. The Big Dipper later signed with Philadelphia.

Chamberlain didn't lead a national title team, like Endacott, Charlie Black I, Lovellette and Manning. Wilt was involved in an illegal car deal that left KU in a punitive jam. Add that he hasn't been what you would call fall-down complimentary to Lawrence and KU, its people and its causes over the years, so who needs him if he's dedicated to playing dog-in-the-manger?

Local developer Bob Billings, who on good days could sell cold chili to Eskimos, was on the 1955-56 KU freshman team with Wilt and has remained as close to him as anyone around here. Bob and many other good people have done everything possible to get Chamberlain to reunite. Wilt knows the door's wide open.

Some say Wilt left here feeling deprived because his team's 54-53 loss to North Carolina in triple overtime in the 1957 NCAA championships branded him a loser, a guy who couldn't win the big one. He was further frustrated as a pro because Bill Russell led the Boston Celtics to all those titles while Wilt played second-fiddle. What in the world did KU have to do with that?

As for all the incredible things Wilt seems to think he did here, as described in his various writings, well, his stories sometimes are marred by facts. He did work to integrate various facilities, but was too busy with his cars and friends to be everywhere he contends he was.

Also, he indicates Allen Fieldhouse was built to showcase him. That joint was in the hopper before Chamberlain was out of grade school. The fieldhouse was dedicated in March of 1955, the year before he enrolled as a freshman.

Wilt also hinted in one book that Kansas had to build a turnpike to make it easier for folks to come see him. The turnpike was years in the planning and was officially opened in the fall of 1956. He's also bad-mouthed some fine people who were great to him here.

Wilt was a major figure in KU basketball history; so were hundreds of other people. KU does itself no favors by continuing to pursue Wilt rather than moving on to honor others every bit as deserving, in many cases more so.

Stop begging. If one old war horse never returns to the stable, concentrate on the ones who want to and will.

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