Basketball Short Stories - 5
Dippy's Youth - 1
Wilt: Larger Than Life, Robert Cherry (2004)
Born in 1936, Wilt Chamberlain grew up in West Philadelphia.
Surprisingly, the young Wilt disliked basketball, believing it was a game for sissies. What he loved to do was run. "I'd play kids' games with my brothers and sisters, games like hide-and-go-seek. Most of them were older than me, so I had to learn to run fast or I'd have never won a game."
Wilt attended George Brooks Elementary School, six blocks from his home, and there, as a member of the track team, he had his first contact with organized sports. ...
As a fourth-grader, Wilt was selected to anchor the school's 300-yard shuttle relay team in the renowned Penn Relays, the track competition held annually at Franklin Field on the University of Pennsylvania's campus. He also ran in a track event held in Convention Hall in Philadelphia where, many years later as a professional basketball player, he and Bill Russell would hold their titanic battles. But at this point in the story, he was a skinny fourth-grader running the final 75-yard lap, leading his team to victory. "The applause made me tingle all over," he remembered, vowing then and there to become a track star.
He undoubtedly would have, but for the changes to his body. By age 10 he was already 6' tall. By junior high school he couldn't keep track of his height, so quickly was he growing. "One summer I went down to Virginia for a vacation with some relatives, and when I came back home my sister Barbara met me at the door and said, 'Who are you? I don't know you.' She was probably kidding," concluded Wilt, "but I did look different. I had grown four inches."
Once asked by a high school teammate how he managed to have such a strong upper body while having such skinny legs, Wilt replied, "I used to go down and pick cotton at my uncle's place."

Young Wilt Chamberlain
It was during such summers in Virginia that mosquitoes mercilessly attacked him, leaving festering sores that permanently scarred his then-spindly legs. Self-conscious about the scars and his rail-thin legs, and wishing to protect himself from blows to his tender shins, Wilt wore knee pads over his shins and high socks when he realized that his size made him a natural for basketball. To keep the socks up, Wilt, who claimed he couldn't afford tape, used rubber bands. And to make sure he always had a ready supply, he slipped a wad of rubber bands around his wrist during a game. He wore rubber bands on his wrist off the court, as well, until he was about 45 years old - and they became his trademark. In a 1986 interview with Sports Illustrated, Frank Deford asked Wilt, "Where are the rubber bands?" Wilt's reply: "I kept wearing them because it reminded me of who I was, where I came from. Then suddenly, almost two years ago, I felt that I just didn't need that reminder anymore. ..." Another Wilt trademark was the headband, which he popularized as one of the first players to wear one when he played for the Los Angeles Lakers in the latter part of his career.
Wilt was particularly friendly with four neighborhood boys, all of whom attended elementary, junior high, and senior high school with him. Their bond was a love of basketball, and they spent much of their childhood at the nearby Haddington Recreation Center, where they learned to play the sport - indoors in winter, outdoors in summer. All five of these childhood friends ... eventually played on the same high school team. And of these close childhood friends, all but one were starters on their championship high school team. ...
"Some of his childhood friends and I always talk about how mature my brother was for his age," (Wilt's sister) Barbara recalled. "Maybe it was because he played on so many teams [with older players] once he decided, at age 13, on basketball. He played for the YMCA, ... the Police Athletic League [PAL], at the Haddington Recreation Center, and for the Vine Memorial and Mt. Carmel Baptist Churches." ...
In 1953 he led his YMCA team to the national title at High Point NC. ...
Wilt's siblings, childhood Philadelphia friends, and Overbrook High School classmates called him by the nicknames he preferred: "Dippy," "Dip," or "Dipper." ... Wilt explained in newspaper interviews the origin of his nickname:
When I was about 10, I was kind of big for my age, and I was always bumping my head in doorways and places where the ceilings were low. I was playing in an empty house one day with some boyfriends, and I ran smack into a low-hanging pipe and gave myself a beautiful black eye. My pals got a good laugh and told me next time I ought to dip under when I came to something like that. They started calling me "the Dipper" after that, and it became "Dipper" and then just "Dip" or "Dippy."
In the fifties one could field a top professional basketball team comprised only of players who had attended Philadelphia high schools, which is what Eddie Gottlieb, owner of the Philadelphia Warriors, did in the 1959-60 season. That squad featured Tom Gola, Ernie Beck, Paul Arizin, Guy Rodgers, and Wilt Chamberlain, all graduate of Philadelphia high schools (and all, save Wilt, graduates of Philadelphia colleges). ...
In Wilt's time, the mid-fifties, Overbrook's student population was 60 to 70 percent white, 30 to 40 percent black. Almost all of the white students were lower-, middle-, or upper-middle-class Jews ...; the blacks were lower- to lower-middle-class from the formerly Jewish but, by mid-fifties, almost entirely black sections of West Philadelphia. The school had a proud academic and athletic tradition, with little, if any, racial tensions. ...
George Willner, an Overbrook graduate ..., recalled an incident in 1954 when Wilt came to the William B. Mann schoolyard in Wynnefield, which was Willmer's elementary school:
I'm 5'6" now, but at that time I was even shorter; and Wilt was 6'11". And it was me and Wilt against five other guys. He said to me, "Don't worry about it. Nobody's gonna score on us." And nobody did.
Larry Einhorn was nine or ten when, on another occasion, Wilt came to the Mann schoolyard:
In walked Wilt and Allan Weinberg, who played on the varsity with Wilt. What Wilt did, I'll never forget: to show his athletic prowess, he took a football and lifted his right leg and threw the football under his leg the length of the schoolyard.
In his later years, Wilt wore an Overbrook letter jacket for interviews, for appearances on television sports show, and to basketball games. ... On more than one occasion, Wilt said that his years at Overbrook were the happiest of his life.
Dippy's Youth - 2
Wilt: Larger Than Life, Robert Cherry (2004)Read Dippy's Youth - 1.
Jack Ryan, sportswriter for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, gave Wilt Chamberlain the nickname "Wilt the Stilt" when Dippy was a 6'11", 200lb sophomore at Overbrook High. Wilt hated the name until the day he died. "It makes me think of ... some freak in a sideshow," he said. He asked friends not to call him that. But headline writers loved it: "The Stilt Gets 44 as Overbrook Wins."
Overbrook won the Public League championship in Wilt's first season - his sophomore year. He tallied 34 points in the championship game against Northeast High School, whose star player was G Guy Rodgers, who would earn All-American honors at Temple University and play with Wilt on the Philadelphia Warriors as part of an NBA career that earned Guy a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Overbrook then faced West Philadelphia Catholic, the defending city champion. Bob Devine, a member of the team who would play at Notre Dame, remembered how his team prepared to face Wilt.
We put a junior varsity player on a table in front of the basket. When we would shoot, he would knock down all the shots. And ... Brother Anthony ... ran around with a window pole. Every time we'd shoot, he would knock down the ball. We had to shoot higher so Wilt could not block our shots. We Just practiced all week long doing that.
The Catholic champs put four men on Chamberlain, two in front and two behind him. The fifth player ran the floor. Wilt scored 29 of Overbrook's 42 points, but his teammates played poorly. Also, Billy Lindsay of West Philadelphia Catholic had the game of his life, hitting 12 of 13 from the field and eight from the foul line for 32 points to lead West Catholic to the city championship, 54-42.
In the spring, Wilt turned to his first love - track. He won the Public League high-jump championship as a sophomore. His high school coach said that Wilt's stride could have made him one of the best runners ever. If the money that is now available to world-class track stars had been available then and if professional athletes were allowed to compete in the Olympics, Wilt would have entered in the decathlon.
His junior year, Chamberlain scored a high school record 71 points in a game against Roxborough. Overbrook easily won the Public League title again with Wilt scoring 40 points in the final game against Northeast. Then he tallied 32 as the Panthers took the city title, defeating South Catholic 74-50 to complete a 19-0 season.

L-R: Chamberlain; B. H. Born; Red Auerbach
It was common in those days for summer resorts in the Catskill Mountains to hire college basketball players as bellhops, in part to play on the resorts' basketball league. Eddie Gottlieb, owner of the Philadelphia Warriors and one of the founders of the NBA, dreamed of Wilt playing for his club. He helped Wilt secure a summer job at Kutsher's Resort the summer between his junior and senior years of high school. The world's tallest bellhop made $13 a week plus tips. More importantly, he played for the resort basketball team. The coach was a young man whose parents, frequent guests at the hotel, asked the Kutshers to hire in 1950. His name was Arnold "Red" Auerbach, who became the coach of the Boston Celtics later that year.
That summer, 6'9" B. H. Born, who had just finished his career at Kansas, played against Wilt in the resort league. Born recalled: "Red Auerbach told Chamberlain that I was an All-American, the NCAA MVP, and I'd probably eat him up, so he was to just do the best he could against me. Until after the game, I couldn't understand why Wilt was so mad and trying so hard. Red had sicced him on me." Wilt, a high school junior, outscored Born, the college All-American, 25-10. "He just chewed me up," said Born. "I decided that if there were high school kids in that part of the country that good, I wasn't going to make it in the pros for very long." So Born eschewed the NBA and played industrial league basketball with the Caterpillar Tractor Company. Auerbach tried to convince Wilt to attend college in New England so that the Celtics, under the NBA's territorial draft rules, could draft him.
With the money he earned at Kutsher's, Wilt bought a 1947 Oldsmobile for $700. Buying cars and maintaining them would be a lifelong hobby for him.
By his senior year, Chamberlain was the most famous high school athlete in the country with articles about him in national magazines like Life and Sport. He was now an even 7' tall.
Overbrook lost only once his senior year, a controversial one-point defeat in a season-opening holiday tournament to Farrell High of Western PA. The officiating was so bad that the Farrell fans apologized to Wilt and his coach and teammates after the game.
Wilt broke his own scoring record in January with 74 points against poor Roxborough. The new mark lasted only a month until "Stodie" Watts scored 78 in a suburban Philadelphia league game. No problem. Wilt scored 90 the next week.
The Panthers easily won the Public League championship for the third straight year, beating West Philadelphia 78-60 in a game held at the Palestra on the University of Pennsylvania campus. In the city finals, Overbrook walloped West Catholic 83-42.
Wilt's high school athletic career wasn't over. After skipping track as a junior, he returned his senior year to win the Public League high-jump championship again, jumping 6'1". He also won the shot put title with a throw of 46'10 1/2."
All talk turned to where Wilt would attend college or if he would skip college and go directly to the NBA. To be continued ...