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The Great NBA Shootout

The death of Wilt Chamberlain on October 12 brought back memories of the man they called "the Big Dipper" and also of one of the great shootouts in NBA history. It happened 38 years ago today, on December 8, 1961.

The Philadelphia Warriors matched up against the Los Angeles Lakers. It was, most of all, a match up of superstars - Wilt Chamberlain of Philadelphia 76ers versus Elgin Baylor and Jerry West of the Los Angeles Lakers. It was also another hometown showcase game in the pros for the Philadelphia Overbrook High School product who had led his team to a 56-3 record in three seasons.

At half time, Philly fans were in nirvana: their big guy, the seven-foot-one, 275-pound "Wilt the Stilt" had poured in 28 points. Elgin Baylor had tallied 16.

The game moved along through a high-scoring second half with Baylor and Chamberlain filling it up. Regulation ended in a tie. Wilt had 53 points; Elgin had 47.

But the night was still young - there was plenty of basketball left ahead. In fact, the teams went through three overtimes before the final score was posted: Philadelphia 151 Los Angeles 147.

Along the way, there were a few records that went by the boards. Baylor scored 63 points. But Chamberlain poured in 78, breaking what had been Baylorís record of 73. Wilt took 62 shots and made 31 field goals - both National Basketball Association records. It truly was The Great NBA Shootout!

Hereís an interesting and special post-script to that game and time: Chamberlain moved on to the Lakers later on in his career and was a teammate of both Baylor and West. Both had vivid memories of what it was like to play with and against him.

Baylor: "I remember one game; we played against Chicago when he had just joined us at the tail-end of my career. And this particular game, for six minutes, they never got a shot that hit the rim or the basket. Wilt just went out and contested every shot, jump shots and everything. I never saw anything like it."

West: "When you played against him, particularly during the height of his career when he was scoring and rebounding, it was really remarkable. He never wanted to come out of a game. He played all 48 minutes. And if the coach would take him out, he didn't like that very much. It was a testament to him being a great competitor along with the fact that here was a very proud guy that could do that. "

But perhaps Oscar Robertson put it best when asked whether Chamberlain was the best ever. His response: "The books don't lie."

That they don't:

Number 13 was the only NBA player to score 4,000 points in a season. He set NBA single-game records for most points (100), most consecutive field goals (18) and most rebounds (55). In the 1961-62 season, he averaged 50.4 points per game.

One thing is certain. Chamberlain never backed away from a Shootout. He thrived on them!

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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