Wilt Chamberlain had a game for the ages 55 years ago, and hardly anyone saw it.

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If LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony had a game like this tonight, it would be worldwide news, and we would be seeing non-stop replays of the moment.... but it happened in a very different era, and it's taken on the aura of a myth lost in the haze of legend:

It's hard to believe now, but there was a time when the NBA was struggling to fill seats. Teams would sometimes do their own regional barnstorming, playing "home" games in nearby towns to generate wider interest.

That's what the Philadelphia Warriors (and the New York Knicks) were doing in Hershey, Pennsylvania on the night of March 2, 1962. Philly's star center Wilt "The Stilt" Chamberlain (he supposedly hated that nickname) was tearing the league up that season, but neither the Warriors nor the Knicks were having great years, and nobody expected an epic achievement that night.

Chamberlain had 23 points in the first quarter and kept on scoring. In the closing minutes of the game, Wilt's teammates were feeding him the ball at every opportunity, and the Knicks were trying everything imaginable to keep the ball out of his hands; once he got it, he was unstoppable. With 46 seconds left, he took a lobbed pass and finished with an alley-oop to hit the century mark. Hardly anyone remembers the final score (Philadelphia won 169-147).

Now, consider this:

The official attendance that night was 4124, barely half the old arena's capacity. The Hershey Bears hockey team typically drew larger crowds than that.

There is no video of the game. No film footage, no video tape, not even a clip of the ultimate basket. There are a handful of black-and-white photographs, but none of the crucial moments.

It was thought that the radio broadcast of the game had been lost forever, but turned out that a college student at UMass jury-rigged an antenna to receive the radio signal out of Philly, borrowed his girlfriend's tape recorder, and recorded the fourth quarter of the game by setting the mike next to the radio speaker (I am not making this up). The recording is considered so precious ("one of the most significant recordings in America's oral history") that is has been archived in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress.

It's not a myth. It's one of the greatest performances in the history of professional sports, now (thankfully) preserved for all time.


Mark Wainwright

Mark Wainwright

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