Wilt Chamberlain: How his 100-point game changed pro basketball

50 years ago Friday, Wilt Chamberlain set an NBA record by scoring 100 points against the Knicks in Hershey, Penn. How that big night put the NBA on the map.

Paul Vathis/AP/File
In this March 2, 1962 file photo, Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors holds a sign reading "100" in the dressing room in Hershey, Pa., after he scored 100 points, as the Warriors defeated the New York Knickerbockers 169-147. For 50 years, Chamberlain's 100-point night has stood as one of sport's magic numbers.

Today's NBA fan has a slew of big scorers to watch on any given night: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant to name just a few.

But, 50 years ago in Hershey, Penn., one of the NBA's all-time greats had a night for the ages.

Basketball Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, scored 100 points in a single game against the New York Knickerbockers. No NBA player has matched the mark, before or since. While the game was not played in a major city – or in front of TV cameras – Wilt's performance left an indelible mark on pro basketball.

The Warriors played the game in Hershey, an occasional 'home' site, as a marketing move to increase the size of their audience outside of Philadelphia. Hershey was, and remains, the home of Hershey's Chocolate. Unfortunately, Wilt's achievement occurred in the years before 24-hour cable television sports channels; there were no TV cameras at the Hershey Sports Arena that March 2nd evening 50 years ago.

Not many writers from either New York or Philadelphia made the trek to Hershey. Fortunately, there were photographers court side, including the Associated Press's Paul Vathis, who took the iconic image of Chamberlain holding up a piece of paper with the number '100' written on it to mark the occasion.

Former NBA player and coach Al Attles was a teammate of Chamberlain's and played in the record breaking game. Attles said Chamberlain wasn't looking to set a record that night.

"The thing I remembered about the game is Wilt didn't want to score 100," Attles remarked earlier this year. "He wanted to come out of the game. Frank [McGuire, the Warriors' coach] kept him in the game. Wilt was very careful. He didn't want to rub it in. He was very conscious of that."

The 1961-62 season was a watershed year for the University of Kansas product out of Philadelphia. Chamberlain averaged just over 50 points a game that season. The Warriors reached the NBA Eastern Division finals that year, losing to the Boston Celtics in seven games.

According to Oscar Robertson, another Hall of Famer, Wilt's 100-point night dramatically increased the public's attention on the NBA and its players.

"Remember, we had plenty of great players, but there was nothing big-time about the NBA before Wilt came along," said Robertson, who became the only player in league history to average a triple-double in that same season. "Wilt was already a star before that. But when he scored 100 points, oh, suddenly everybody had to come out and see him and the rest of us."

The Philadelphia 76ers, one of Chamberlain's former teams and the franchise that replaced the Warriors after they moved to San Francisco in 1962, will honor Chamberlain's mark Friday night when they host the Golden State Warriors. The team bought – and will hand out to fans – pieces of the wood floor that the Warriors and Knicks played on 50 years ago.

Other parts of that historic floor will head to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., a place where fans can relive that night in Hershey 50 years ago.

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