In 1991, after the release of his most recent autobiography, A
View from Above, Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest
basketball players of all time, became a national joke. His
assertion that he'd had sex with close to 20,000 women--to his
dismay coinciding with the news that Magic Johnson was
HIV-positive--was widely denounced and ridiculed. "Those who
know me don't have a problem with that number," he says
defiantly. "I wanted to get my point across, and I'd learned
that numbers get people's attention."
The 7'1" Chamberlain's NBA numbers are impossible to ignore. He
holds 72 league records, including one-game marks for scoring
(100) and rebounding (55), and the single-season averages for
scoring (50.4 in 1961-62) and rebounding (27.2 in '60-61).
During his 14-year career Chamberlain led the '66-67
Philadelphia 76ers and the '71-72 Los Angeles Lakers to world
championships, averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds, and was
MVP four times.
His pride in amassing numbers, however, left the false
impression that he was selfish on the court. His mere two
titles--and the constant comparison to the 11 that Bill Russell
won--have damaged his reputation more than bedroom braggadocio
ever could. "Who was that old man you put on the cover last
week?" he joked recently of SI's naming, in our May 10 issue, of
Russell as the greatest team player ever. "I'm going to call and
tell him he never looked so good."
As if he still needed to prove his phenomenal athletic ability,
Chamberlain, 62, has attacked his retirement--he left the NBA in
1973--with vigor. He plays tennis, racquetball, team handball
and volleyball, all with intensity and most with surprising
skill. A champion shot-putter in high school in his hometown of
Philadelphia and later at Kansas, Chamberlain also has poured
himself into track and field, both as a competitor and a
sponsor. "We all have regrets," he says. "Maybe if I'd been
raised in California I'd be known for the decathlon rather than
for missing foul shots." His passion for track led him to
cofound, in 1998, the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, an annual race
(scheduled for this Sunday in San Diego) that benefits the
Leukemia Society of America.
When he's not testing himself, Chamberlain splits his time
between houses in Los Angeles, Miami and Vancouver. Although he
says he's "still a single man in search," any woman who wants to
be the final number will have to wait. Wilt the Stilt shows no
signs of slowing, never mind settling, down.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR.
Wilt's latest gig: cofounding the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, to be
run May 23 in San Diego.