Basketball Short Story
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.