Carolyn Kirby had the perfect background music for the Jayhawks' recent ill-fated trip to the NCAA Tournament: Wilt Chamberlain's recording of "By the River."
"He sings real low," she said, imitating the bass voice of Chamberlain, a Kansas University basketball player from 1956 to 1958, generally recognized as one of the game's greats.
The song has gained new popularity among Kansas University fans since men's basketball band director Tom Stidham revealed Chamberlain's record was the source for the tune and lyrics of music played at a pep rally.
The rumor has been that Chamberlain wrote the song, but the label on the record indicates it was composed by songwriter Norman Mapp.
Finding a copy of that record is difficult. Kirby, a lifelong KU fan who collects old 45 rpm singles, said she has heard only 500 copies were made. But she doesn't remember how she acquired hers.
"I don't know if I bought it, or if I traded for it, or what," she said.
And she doesn't play the record often. "I've had people over, put the record on and say, 'Who is this?'" she said.
Kirby first encountered Chamberlain when she was in junior high school and he was playing for Kansas University. She had a 25-cent Kansas University Basketball Boosters button that got her into all the games at Allen Fieldhouse something she wishes was still in place for young Jayhawk fans.
"Wilt was playing my sons kill me for this and I wanted a Coke," she said. "So I went down to the bench three times, during the game mind you, and got his autograph. I sold them for a quarter each, so I could buy a Coke."
She chuckled, realizing the autographs would be valuable today. "The most expensive Coke I ever bought," she said.
Kirby now regrets not asking Chamberlain to sign the record when he returned to KU to retire his jersey in 1998. Chamberlain died a year later.
"I should have had him sign it," she said. "I was just so in awe that day."