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Archive for Saturday, March 2, 2002

Few saw Wilt’s 100-point game

March 2, 2002

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In another era, the NBA sometimes resembled a barnstorming operation, its teams playing in secondary arenas well removed from their home courts.

That was the case 40 years ago today, when the Philadelphia Warriors played the New York Knicks in Hershey, Pa., and Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points.

That bit of basketball history occurred in a surreal setting, a dark, concrete converted hockey arena with 4,124 fans watching and the aroma of chocolate wafting all around the building.

"It was not a very fancy place," said Jim Heffernan, who covered the game for the Philadelphia Bulletin and rode the team bus to Hershey, where the Warriors trained and where Eddie Gottlieb, owner of the team, would schedule a couple of games each season.

Chamberlain was not on the Warriors' bus. He had been in New York on business and drove down for the game with Willie Naulls, then with the Knicks. They climbed into Chamberlain's business manager's Cadillac for the 170-mile trip.

It was the kind of inter-team fraternalism that would never occur in today's more buttoned-down NBA.

Frank McGuire, in his only year as Warriors coach, started Paul Arizin and Tom Meschery up front, Al Attles and Guy Rodgers in the backcourt and the massive Chamberlain at center. The Knicks, struggling through a difficult season, had Darrell Imhoff at center, surrounded by Naulls and Johnny Green up front with Richie Guerin and Al Butler in the backcourt.

It became obvious very quickly that this would be a special night for Chamberlain. He scored 23 points in the first quarter and was 9-for-9 from the foul line, remarkable for a man who battled free throws throughout his career. Philadelphia charged to a 16-point lead and the focus became Chamberlain.

"He was scoring 50 points routinely," Heffernan said. "He was over 50 points 45 times. He averaged 50 points a game that season. So you got used to his scoring. But when he made those first nine free throws, that told us something."

By halftime, Chamberlain was up to 41 points, but the Knicks had clipped five points off Philadelphia's lead and had it down to a more manageable 11.

What they could not manage was Chamberlain.

Imhoff was overmatched. New York coach Eddie Donovan also tried Cleveland Buckner and Naulls to no avail. Chamberlain was not going to be stopped. Not on this night. Not with Rodgers, one of the best point guards in the game, feeding him.

Every time down the floor, the Warriors began looking for Chamberlain. Attles took eight shots and made them all, the kind of hot hand a team might be expected to exploit, except if a teammate is on the path Chamberlain was following. At one point, Attles gave up a sure basket to lob the ball to Chamberlain for a dunk.

Chamberlain scored 28 points in the third quarter, giving him 69 for the game.

Chamberlain pushed past 90 points with under three minutes left. He missed three shots down the stretch, but with 46 seconds remaining, he grabbed a pass from Rucklick and jammed it through.

Or maybe it was a jump shot. Accounts differ, the observers so caught up in the event that how Chamberlain scored the milestone basket became secondary.

He hit 36 of 63 field-goal attempts and converted 28 of 32 free throws as the Warriors won 169-147.

Afterward, Chamberlain and Naulls climbed back into the Cadillac for the trip back north.

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