This story, by correspondent the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin’s Sandy Grady, first appeared as a “Man About Sports” column in the Dec. 20, 1961, issue of The Sporting News under the headline, “Wilt Fired Fast Reply to Pollard’s Barbs”.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Step on a cat’s tail and you’ll get an indignant howl. Tread on Wilt Chamberlain, the biggest cat in pro basketball, and the vocal reaction is equally swift. Nobody has ever accused Mr. Chamberlain — the world’s tallest nightclub owner, real estate investor and basketball flinger — of hiding behind a door when his critics start chasing him.
Latest to play the game of Wilt Knocking was Jim Pollard, who quietly heaved a few barbs at Mr. Chamberlain before a basketball writers’ meeting. Pollard said (1) superstars such as Wilt are protected by the refs because only 84 fouls were called on Chamberlain last year, (2) Wilt could be great “but he paces himself something terrible,” and (3) Bill Russell, not Wilt, is the most valuable player in the league.
The first thing Wilt did when he discovered these needles pinned in his 7-1 hide was to seek the needler. He accosted Pollard at Convention Hall where Jim’s Chicago team was preparing to lose another game.
“You know, Jim, half of what you say is wrong,” said Wilt sadly, “but half of it is right.
“Pollard’s right — there’s two sets of rules in the league,” said Wilt. “I’ve heard an official say, ‘I could call 1,000 fouls a night against people playing Wilt.’ Well, I understand why they don’t — it would hurt the game for spectators.”
What about Pollard’s rap that Wilt paces himself — some detractors say more bluntly that the Warrior paragon loafs — and that Wilt will score 100 points some night when he gets mad?
‘I Have to Pace Myself-Have Lot of Games to Play’
“The first part is right,” grinned Wilt beneath his mustache. “Sure, I pace myself. In college, I didn’t. You go full blast. You’re playing once, twice a week. Everybody in this league paces himself. I’ve got a lot of games left to play. Look, I can’t sleep after a game. I’ll get to bed 6 a.m. Saturday, and be up at 10 to play a TV game. That’s a heckuva schedule, man. If I go full steam, I’d have nothing left — and I feel I must I play a full 45 minutes to help this team.”
What about the 100 points?
“Someday I could do it if I were relaxed, cool, and had a terrific night when all the shots are dropping,” said Wilt. “But mad? You lose your skill when you get upset — I do anyway. Oh, I may play better defense if I get burned up. Maybe I work harder at it. But I don’t score as well.”
And what of the comparison, often made to Wilt’s detraction between Chamberlain and Boston’s Russell? The players and coaches voted Russell the most valuable player last year, which must have rankled Wilt.
“I respect Russell and he’s my friend,” said Wilt. “But people don’t understand one fact — he’s with Boston, I’m with Philadelphia. He’s got the greatest team in basketball around him. That’s not my opinion, but fact. Bill doesn’t have to carry a scoring load. If he doesn’t score a point, Boston can win. Bill’s out there to play defense and rebound.
“Now when I go on the floor for a game, I know I’ve got to hit 40 points or so, or this team is in trouble. I must score — understand? After that I play defense and get the ball off the boards. I try to do them all best I can, but scoring comes first.
Two-Man ‘War’ Between Wilt and Baylor
“If I were with Boston, maybe I would be a different player. I don’t know. Maybe it’s lucky that Russell and I are where we are, but I wish people would understand that our jobs are quite different.”
Wilt was stretched out in his white Warrior suit, lolling on the Convention Hall stage during the first game of a double-header. Elgin Baylor walked past carrying his travel bag.
“Hey, Big Man,” Wilt said to Baylor, “you hear the news — I’m covering you one-on-one tonight. Just me and you. I’m going to take you outside and kill you with my jump shot.”
Baylor smiled. “Don’t kid me now, Wilt. I’m nervous enough before a game. Don’t shake me up, buddy.”
“You better be nervous,” said Wilt. “You’re my pigeon tonight.”
The kidding evaporated in the brick kiln heat of a three-overtime, 151 to 147 loss to the Lakers. Wilt had 78, Baylor 63, in the fiercest two-man war the pro game has ever seen.
“He can have the record,” said Baylor, whose 71 in a regulation game was the pro tops. “The way he played, he deserves it.”