Single page view By Gary M. Pomerantz
Special to ESPN Book Club

The following is excerpted from "Wilt, 1962" by Gary M. Pomerantz. Copyright (c) 2005 by Gary M. Pomerantz. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Chapter 4: The Rise of the Dipper

OUT OF THE CRAMPED OVERBROOK HIGH School gym in west Philadelphia, Wilt Chamberlain's urban legend grew. His coach, Cecil Mosenson, only twenty-two years old, had left the back of his father's delivery truck filled with bagels and rye bread to coach his alma mater. Mosenson's parents were Rumanian Jews who wanted only for their son "to be a good boy." Fiery and competitive as a Temple University player, Mosenson, as Overbrook's new coach, quickly faced power struggles with Dippy Chamberlain. The young Dipper once ran onto the court for pregame warm-ups wearing a scarf, a beret, and dark sunglasses; he even shot a few layups in that getup. "Get out of here and take that off!" Mosenson screamed. Chamberlain assented, but once the game started, he refused to shoot. Mosenson benched him, saying, "If you're not going to shoot, you're not going to play." Without him, Overbrook struggled. "All right," Mosenson said minutes later from the bench, "are you ready to play?" No answer. In went Chamberlain. He still would not shoot. Out came Chamberlain. As a tight game reached its final minutes, Overbrook fans wondered what was happening with Dippy (Is he sick? Hurt? Why does Dippy look so angry?). Mosenson returned him to the game. Chamberlain took over, shooting and scoring at will, and Overbrook won. In the locker room afterwards, Mosenson fumed at his star: "You're not going to pull that crap on me ever again!" Mosenson thought, He's testing me.

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Chamberlain's local legend had started with whispers: "There's this big kid named Wilt going to the 'Brook." Of course, in the early Fifties, big usually meant six-foot-five. The Dipper towered over his opponents at Overbrook, few of them taller than six-foot-four, and averaged more than forty-five points per game as a senior. Whenever his teammates encountered trouble on offense, they knew to blindly heave the ball toward the basket, certain Dippy somehow would grab it.

His performances generated barbershop conversations and sensational headlines in Philadelphia. Broadcaster Bill Campbell and NBA referee Pete D'Ambrosio felt compelled to see the Dipper play at Overbrook and came away impressed. One summer, Hal Lear, star guard at Temple University, received a call from a white friend in northeast Philly, hoping to arrange a game. "I want you to come up here and play us. I'm going to have Tommy [Gola] with me." So Lear replied, "Okay, well, I'm going to have a decent team, too." Lear said he would bring Guy Rodgers, his Temple teammate, and Overbrook's Dippy Chamberlain. Word of the game spread across town. When Chamberlain stepped from a car at A and Champlost in north Philadelphia for the game, Lear saw people gathered in the streets, awestruck, pointing at the Dipper and saying, "Woooooh!" Lear watched front doors thrown open and neighbors pouring into the gym to see if the legend of the young Philadelphia giant was true.

At Overbrook, meanwhile, the girls were swept up by the Chamberlain phenomenon. "How big is Wilt?" they asked Dave Shapiro, the only white player in Overbrook's starting lineup. "Six-eleven," Shapiro said. "No, you see him in the locker room," the girls said, suggestively. "How big is he?" The Dipper's fame at Overbrook once saved Shapiro from a tense racial confrontation in the school's hallway. A group of eight black classmates stood in front of Shapiro and another Jewish classmate, holding the classmate's sneakers. "Give him back his sneaks – he needs them for gym," Shapiro ordered. They refused and baited Shapiro: "And what are you going to do about it?" A showdown at hand, one of the black students recognized Shapiro as a basketball player. "Hey, wait a minute. This guy plays with Dippy," he said, stepping forward. He handed over the sneakers and apologized. "We're sorry, man. We didn't mean anything by it. Don't tell Dippy, okay?"

Wilt: Past and Present
How would Wilt Chamberlain fare in today's NBA? Scoop Jackson imagines an NBA with the Big Dipper.

A visit to Wilt's bedroom: Andy and Brian Kamenetzky visit the famous palace of love.

Listen to the broadcast of the fourth quarter of Wilt's 100-point game

Overbrook lost just once in 195455, Chamberlain's senior year, a preseason game in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, that ended with a referee's controversial call. Overbrook players returned to their locker room that night enraged. They dented lockers with their fists. Shapiro saw the Dipper pull from his satchel a BB gun the size of a pistol and shoot the wire-glass window in the locker room, chipping off pieces of glass. In preparation for a game against Chamberlain, the West Catholic High School coach stood one of his players atop a chair during practice and asked him to swat at shots with a broom. Meanwhile, Joe Goldenberg, star guard of West Philadelphia High, scouted an Overbrook game, and when his coach asked, "Where does Chamberlain shoot from?" Goldenberg answered honestly: "Mainly from above the rim." When Overbrook and West Philadelphia High played, a fight broke out on the court. Fans stood, many preparing to join the fight, but only until the Dipper, after separating the combatants, raised his arms at center court and motioned for fans to sit down. Miraculously, they did. Cecil Mosenson had never seen anything like it. Dippy Chamberlain was like a messiah.

* * * * *

The Dipper learned the nuances of basketball – and nightclubs – when he left Philadelphia for the University of Kansas and entered a segregated society in Lawrence, Kansas. He honed his game against double- and triple-teaming, drew huge crowds and, occasionally, racial taunts. Just as the NBA had legislated rule changes to diminish the dominance of six-foot-ten Lakers center George Mikan with his perceived unfair height advantage, the NCAA altered some of its game rules to slow the Dipper, including offensive goaltending (players now were forbidden to guide a teammate's shot into the hoop) and free-throw shooting. Kansas Coach Forrest "Phog" Allen had bragged that the freshman Chamberlain would become the first player to make every free throw; the Dipper, with a running start, would leap from behind the free-throw line and dunk his foul shots. The NCAA reacted to Allen's boasting by mandating a player's feet must be behind the free-throw line when the ball is released.

Continued...


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