Book Review: Wilt, 1962 by Gary M. Pomerantz

“In the history of professional team sports in America, there is no statistical equal of the Dipper’s hundred-point game, no other individual accomplishment in a single game so remarkable and out-sized.”

Gary M. Pomerantz, Wilt, 1962

 

There are very, few legends in sports history.  In this day and age, we tend to throw around that word a little too casually, but when describing certain athletes, it suits just fine.  Ruth.  DiMaggio.  Clay.  Owens.  And of course, Wilt.

Similarly, some records continue to stand the test of time.  Wilt’s 100 point game remains one of those.

Such is the topic of Gary M. Pomerantz’ brilliant “Wilt, 1962,” a book any basketball historian will find hard to put down.

The book is an eloquent, history lesson of one special night in sports that has never, and likely will never, be duplicated.  Pomerantz interviews seemingly everyone that was in attendance that evening, disc jockeys, fans, vendors, former athletes, even teenagers who had snuck into the building lucky enough not to get caught.  Just like the game itself, his account reads as a fable that isn’t true.

Only 4,124 fans were in attendance at Pennsylvania’s Hershey Sports Arena that night.  This was back when the NBA was trying to grow its fan base, so teams would travel to smaller cities to play.  The few that were there witnessed history.  “So many others later wished they had been there to see the Dipper.  They wished they’d seen the great man glistening in the arena’s dim lights.  They wished they’d had the foresight to be in the smoky building… the night of his march into history.  But who knew?”  Pomerantz reminds us of every memorable sporting event we’ve ever been to, and those we wished we had.

While the game serves as a backdrop for Wilt, 1962, the book is not strictly about the night Wilt scored one hundred.  Pomerantz covers his Globetrotter days (“the Globetrotters performed yuk-it-up comedy that white crowds, particularly in the South, found comforting and unthreatening”), his womanizing  (“a way to define himself, a way to keep score of his manhood and put a sheen on his celebrity”) and his stance on racism in the early 1960s (“beneath the veneer of public quiescence, the Dipper fought is own freedom struggle simply by being – aggressively, flagrantly, unapologetically – the Dipper.”)

He also breaks down his relationship with teammates, writing “there was something disquieting about Chamberlain.  It wasn’t so much that the Dipper thought himself a great player or that he was as great as he believed or even that he was great in a way they never could be.  He existed apart from his team, orbiting in his own glittery realm.”

Pomerantz even discusses poor Darrall Imhoff, who had the responsibility of covering Wilt that night; the Knicks starting center was out.  “Together their portrait in Hershey would be rich and symbolism: Chamberlain and Imhoff stood alone on the trembling tectonic plates of their sport.  One would change basketball, the other could barely hold one.”

The book also does a fair job of delving into Chamberlain’s persona, describing him as a man who didn’t want “to be considered a great player merely because of his size.  The Dipper sought to prove himself multi-dimensional.”

Not only does Pomerantz portray Wilt as a memorable sports figure, an icon, he also paints a picture of a more hip, yet still troubled, time in America, which makes Wilt, 1962 such an enjoyable read.  Wilt “loved Harlem, the neon, the ladies, James Brown, Etta James, Redd Foxx, a lush life with jazz the soundtrack.”   In the early 1960s, Chamberlain’s club Big Wilt’s Smalls Paradise attracted “a see and be-seen crowd, sophisticated, elite, and integrated.  If Philadelphia was his workplace, Harlem was his living room.  Each night in the NBA, the Dipper played for white owners and predominantly white crowds, but at… Big Wilt’s Smalls Paradise, surrounded by icons of black life in the lingering glow of Harlem glamour, whites came to him.”

The book flows like a work of fiction, which is somewhat symbolic considering the events of that night have become a thing of legend, as has the man it covers, something the Knicks were clearly unable to do that night.

The tale of Wilt’s magical evening makes you want to travel back in time.  With Pomerantz’s help, you do.

23 thoughts on “Book Review: Wilt, 1962 by Gary M. Pomerantz

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Wilt, 1962 by Gary M. Pomerantz - BallHyped, NBA | BallHyped Sports Blogs

  2. D…

    Here’s what Pomerantz writes about Wilt’s other historic, and unattainable, number:

    “”Yes, that’s correct, twenty thousand different ladies,” Chamberlain wrote in A View From Above, a memoir published by Villard in 1991, eight years before his death. “At my age, that equals out to having sex with 1.2 women a day, every day since I was fifteen years old.” His literary agent had asked “Are you sure you want to do this? That’s all people will talk about.” But Chamberlain replied, “Any publicity is good publicity.”?

    If you look at it that way, D, that number might not be as fictitous as it seems.

  3. 100 points is nothing. 20,000 women? That’s something. That statistic shows me who the ultimate scoring champion is.

  4. Wilt was a man whom the term “larger than life” seems appropriate.
    Cheers bruh!

  5. I remember that post, Dub. Good stuff and hard to argue with.

    Although I still can’t say Wilt was the greatest basketball player ever. Never saw the guy play.

    Is most dominant the same as greatest?

  6. You make it sound like poonani is a bad thing. We can talk about my Washington Capitals sending the Bruins packing like a used hooker if you want 🙂

  7. When I was a kid my books of choice(and yes they had books way back then) were all about sports. One of those featured Wilt, Russell, and Willis Reed. Needless to say I was pretty damned impressed.
    Stay thirsty my friend!

  8. Pingback: Sports Chump » Book Review: Wilt, 1962 by Gary M. Pomerantz | Pulplit Magazine

  9. No, D, as we both know very well, it happens to be one of my favorite subjects.

    And let’s see how your Caps do the rest of the way out. Since my Lightning never even made it, I don’t really have a dog in the hunt, so best of luck.

  10. Dub…

    When I get the chance, I’m going to take a closer look at Wilt’s numbers, which I know were obviously dominant.

    But did you know, Kobe Bryant will likely surpass Chamberlain for fourth on the all-time NBA scoring list next season?

    And you know who he’s going for after that, don’t ya’?

  11. Great nostalgia. I remember betting NBA in junior high and listening to the WCAU Philadelphia broacast of Sixer games. The late PA Announcer Dave Zincoff would roll Wilt’s nickname off his tongue after a basket. He would embarrass all other 7 footers he played against. WAIT, not quite all. Bill Russell with a strong surrounding cast would hold his own and then some against the “Big Dipper”.

    Thanks for the memories Gary,Chris and Wilt.

    I don’t even wanna get into the “who was better” arguement between different eras. One thing for certain, Wilt is a HOF’er in any era.

  12. Records are certainly meant to be broken, therefore on that basis, Wilt’s hundred-point game will be surpassed by another player. It’s hard to believe that it could be, but in this current time of how the NBA is played, there is definitely a possibility. More and more players are taking free-throws and one day there will be that one person that gets to say he managed to break the unbreakable. Hopefully we’re all alive by then.

  13. BS…

    Hmmm, 100 points, huh?

    Tough one. I’d say, if anyone did have a chance, it’d be Durant, but Westbrook takes too many shots.

    LeBron’s a scoring machine but he’s got Wade.

    Derrick Rose maybe?

    I don’t see Kobe getting anywhere close to 80 again. Maybe a few more fifties in his pocket but he’s getting up there in age.

    I don’t know, man. 100 is a damn lot of points.

    FYI, here was Wilt’s line that night.

    48 minutes
    38-63 FG (second most attempts was teammate Paul Arizin with 18)
    28-32 FT
    Oh… and he also had 25 rebounds.
    And two assists, proving he’s not a ball hog, he he.

  14. Pingback: Sports Chump » One ticket, one time machine, one contest

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