The name Wilt Chamberlain is synonymous with NBA stardom. His famous 100-point game in 1962 is the crowning achievement for the NBA’s first true megastar. His induction into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1979 was also a fitting acknowledgment of his illustrious career. But before NBA glory, there was NCAA fame.
High School Star
Chamberlain was a gifted player from the beginning. He played at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, where he stood out for his offensive prowess. Chamberlain’s talent and height made him one of the first modern centers.
While at Overbrook, Chamberlain scored over 2,200 points. He added outstanding individual performances in which he scored 71, 74, and 90 points in a single game. In one contest, Chamberlain scored 60 points in 12 minutes. In a 1991 interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, he recalled this feat, saying, “It’s nothing when you consider that the team we were playing against was trying to freeze the ball.”
His success on the high school stage was a testament to his ability. In fact, he was so talented for his age that more than 100 colleges scouted and recruited Chamberlain. He would eventually choose the University of Kansas.
Chamberlain played only two seasons at Kansas. But he didn’t disappoint and lived up to the hype surrounding his recruitment. In his first year, the 1956-1957 season, he played 27 games, averaging 29.6 points per game, and added a 46.8% shooting percentage from the field.
Chamberlain’s debut set the tone for the season when he scored 52 points against Northwestern. Kansas’s 87-69 win sparked a remarkable season. His performances helped spur Kansas to a first-place finish in the Big Seven Conference. Kansas went 13-1 in the conference and 24-3 overall. Kansas’s outstanding performance took them to the NCAA tournament final, where they would face the North Carolina Tar Heels.
The game ended in a heartbreaking triple-overtime loss, with Kansas coming within a basket of taking home the national championship. However, Chamberlain’s efforts landed him the Most Outstanding Player award for the tournament.
In Chamberlain’s second season, Kansas finished behind Kansas State in the Big Eight conference. Kansas would go 18-5 on the year, including an 8-4 record in conference play. The club ranked seventh in the AP poll and eighth in the Coaches poll. However, Kansas could not replicate its NCAA tournament success from the previous year. Chamberlain was named to the All-Big Eight and All-American squad at the end of the season.
Chamberlain’s stats would mirror the previous season, as he averaged 30.1 points per game and shot 47.3% from the field. He averaged 29.9 points per game in 48 NCAA contests during his two seasons at Kansas. His success at the college level had pro teams knocking at his door. So, Chamberlain decided to skip his senior year at Kansas and turn pro.
Chamberlain spent the 1958-1959 season with the Harlem Globetrotters. NBA draft rules at the time barred players from entering the draft before their college class graduated. Chamberlain got a $50,000 contract for the season, an astronomical sum at the time.
Chamberlain was eligible for the 1959 NBA draft and was chosen third overall by the Philadelphia Warriors. However, the Warriors made their pick under the “territorial” rule, which the NBA implemented to encourage teams to draft hometown players.
Wilt the Stilt was an eligible pick for Philadelphia even though he had played college ball for Kansas. Chamberlain won the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and All-Star Game Most Valuable Player awards in the 1959-1960 season.
Chamberlain retired as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in 1974. The record stood until Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke it in 1984. He remains among the best college basketball players in history despite playing for only two seasons. However, two memorable seasons have stood the test of time.