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Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game, 50 years later

By Frank Fitzpatrick, The Philadelphia Inquirer –

PHILADELPHIA — With the 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game on March 2, 1962 almost here, that long-ago night in Hershey, Pa., has been dissected more thoroughly than a crime-show corpse.

Details of the historic event — the ball, the broadcast, the fans, the absence of sportswriters, Wilt’s pregame arcade exploits, his postgame ride home, the badly embarrassed Knicks, the thoroughly cooperative Warriors — have become so familiar that the enormity of the accomplishment seems somehow diminished.

But sometimes interesting questions about that game and its implications arise: What happened in Chamberlain’s next game? Why hasn’t any NBA star come close since? How many others at any level have scored 100? And what became of them?

Here are some answers:

The next game

For Chamberlain, the day of the Philadelphia Warriors’ next game began with a newspaper columnist calling him a monster and ended with a 4-foot-6 harmonica player gnawing at his leg.

March 4, 1962, two days after his astonishing performance, should have been the biggest day in Chamberlain’s big life.

Instead, the aftermath of his 100-point performance was marred by the same kind of small-minded scorn the 7-foot-1 Philadelphian had long endured from a world that continued to view him as a physical freak.

The Warriors on March 4 met the same team they’d thumped on March 2 — the Knicks.

But it wasn’t on a Friday night in Hershey. This game took place on a Sunday afternoon when basketball had the sports calendar to itself. It was played in the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden in New York, in the nation’s largest city, the world’s media capital.

On the surface, it all looked like a perfect storm of good timing. Surely New York’s fans, its TV cameras, and sportswriters would swarm to the event.

Yet hardly anyone cared.

Only 9,346 fans, about half of what the 18,496-seat facility on Eighth Avenue could hold, showed up to see the man who had made history on Friday.

The city’s nine major newspapers, far from ballyhooing Chamberlain’s appearance, greeted it with more cynicism than awe. Like so many at the time, they completely missed Chamberlain’s remarkable athleticism and saw only his size.

“Basketball is not prospering because most normal-sized American youngsters or adults cannot identify themselves with the freakish stars,” wrote New York Daily News sports editor Jimmy Powers that morning. “You just can’t sell a seven-foot basket-stuffing monster to even the most gullible adolescent.”

There were no elaborate pregame ceremonies marking the feat, no filmed tributes, no testimonials.

Without much time to digest its significance, fans, like the writers, appeared to view the 100-point game as a comical fluke. So when Knicks center Darrell Imhoff, who had fouled out trying to cover Wilt two nights earlier, left this game late, he got a standing ovation for having helped limit the Philadelphia center to a mere 58 points.

The Warriors won again, 129-128. Chamberlain’s 58 points marked the fifth straight game he had scored 50 or more.

The Knicks made some history of their own, though it, too, went unacknowledged. Forward Willie Naulls, who scored 39, topped the 30-point mark for a seventh straight game. It would stand as a team record for 48 years, until Amar’e Stoudemire broke it in 2010.

Chamberlain, who oddly lived in New York while playing in his hometown, was asked to take a bow that night on TV’s popular Ed Sullivan Show.

When the perpetually stiff host, a former sportswriter, introduced the player, the sight of the nattily attired giant towering over Sullivan stirred the audience to giggles.

The giggles turned into a roar when Johnny Puleo, a tiny harmonica artist who was performing that night, dashed onto the stage and glared up at Chamberlain. Perplexed, the basketball star assumed a boxer’s pose until Puleo lunged at him and bit his thigh.

As the audience roared at the vaudeville-like antic, Chamberlain tried to make a joke. “If he grows up,” he said to Sullivan, sounding slightly embarrassed by the whole demeaning bit, “I might lose a job.”

Only three games remained in the regular season, and Chamberlain finished with 30, 44, and 34 points. Remarkably, those totals created statistical neatness for his unparalleled regular season — final per-game averages of 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds.

The Bristol stomper

Two years before Chamberlain’s 100-pointer, a 6-foot-2 basketball player for tiny Bristol High scored 114 points in a game.

Though he and his exploits have been largely forgotten, Pete Cimino remains one of the most remarkable athletes the Philadelphia area has ever produced.

How many others, after all, can say they scored 114 points in a high school basketball game, threw a perfect game that spring for the school’s baseball team, struck out 20 batters in a minor-league game two years later, and pitched three seasons in the majors?

On Jan. 22, 1960, in Bristol High’s Lower Bucks County League matchup with Palisades High, Cimino erupted. He hit on 44 of 79 shots from the field and 26 of 29 free throws as Bristol romped, 134-86.

Afterward, he was almost apologetic. “All I wanted to do was break the league mark of 62,” he said. “But the guys on the team kept getting rebounds, and I was able to score a lot on the fastbreak.”

The new high school scoring record he set lasted four days.

On Jan. 26, 1960, Danny Heater of Burnsville, W. Va., scored 135 in a game his team won by 130 points, 173-43, a total that still stands as the most ever in a sanctioned high school game.

That spring, Cimino threw his perfect game for Bristol. In June, the hard-throwing righthander signed with the Washington Senators for a $12,000 bonus.

On April 30, 1962, pitching for the Class B Wilson Tobs of the Carolina League, Cimino struck out 20. In 190 innings that season, he fanned 190 batters. He pitched one season for the Twins (1966) and parts of the next two with the Angels.

He is 69 now and lives in Kings port, Tenn.

The boys bombed

From various lists, it seems 19 or 20 boys and five girls have scored 100 or more points in officially sanctioned varsity games. In college, Rio Grande’s Bevo Francis did it twice and Frank Selvy of Furman once.

While three of the girls — Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie, and Linda Page of Philadelphia’s Dobbins High School — moved on to great success at the next levels, you’ve probably heard of few of the boys.

In addition to Cimino, the list of long-forgotten youngsters who hit triple digits in high school games — the first in Indiana in 1913, the most recent 2006 in Manhattan — includes such obscure names as Ed Vondra, Dick Bogenrife, Cedrick Hensley, and Dickie Pitts.

But of all those scholastic performances, perhaps none topped Leslie’s.

Playing for Morningside (Calif.) High on Feb. 7, 1990, she scored 101 points in the first half — 49 in the first quarter, 52 in the second. Trailing, 102-24, at intermission, South Torrance High School decided to forfeit.

Others from Philly

In addition to Chamberlain, Cimino, and Page, who scored 100 against Mastbaum in a 1981 Public League matchup, two others from the Philadelphia area reached the 100-point plateau.

While at Villanova, Paul Arizin, who was a Warriors teammate of Chamberlain’s that night in 1962 (he had 16 points), reportedly got 100 points in a game. But since it came against a junior college, whose name seems to have been forgotten in the subsequent decades, it was never sanctioned by the NCAA.

Arizin also rang up 85 points in Villanova’s Feb. 12, 1949 game against the Naval Air Materials Center.

Camden (N.J.) High’s Dajuan Wagner, the son of University of Louisville all-American Milt Wagner, scored 100 points in January 2001 and didn’t even play in the final four minutes of a 157-67 victory over Gloucester Township Tech.

The jinx

Maybe scoring 100 points isn’t as grand as it appears. Consider the fate that has befallen several of those who hit that milestone.

Bevo Francis is the only person to have done it twice, scoring 116 in 1953 and 113 a year later. But because both came against junior college teams, the performances were not ultimately sanctioned by the NCAA. Francis, a rural Kentuckian, was so crestfallen that he opted not to play professional ball.

Linda Page, the Philadelphia Dobbins schoolgirl who went on to star at North Carolina State, died mysteriously last year at 48.

Dajuan Wagner played one year collegiately before declaring himself eligible for the NBA draft. Selected by Cleveland, he was a rookie disappointment, shooting just 36 percent from the field. He soon developed ulcerative colitis and in 2005 had his entire colon removed.

Bennie Fuller, a Little Rock high schooler, scored 102 points in a 1971 game. That attracted lots of college attention until recruiters found out Fuller was at least 20 years old and deaf. He went to Pensacola Junior College and eventually disappeared from public view.

Frank Selvy still holds the official NCAA record, having racked up 100 points for Furman against Newberry in 1954. Though Selvy had a long and fruitful career with the Lakers, he will always be known for missing a wide-open 12-footer as time expired in Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals. Had he made it, the Lakers would have beaten their nemesis, the Boston Celtics.

No mas

No NBA player, not even the prolific Chamberlain, challenged the 100-point mark again.

The closest Wilt, who had a 78-point outing in 1961, ever got to his own record afterward was the 73 he scored on Nov. 16, 1962. He soon grew weary of scoring records and turned elsewhere for on-court satisfaction. In the two seasons he played on championship teams — the 1966-67 Sixers and 1971-72 Lakers — he averaged just 24.1 and 14.8 points a game, respectively.

So why has no one else approached 100?

Well, the pace of NBA basketball, with its penchant for isolation offense, has slowed considerably since 1962. And defenses have gotten much tighter.

The 316 points the Warriors and Knicks combined for on March 2, 1962, would be inconceivable today. This season, at least at this point, just three of the NBA’s 30 teams even average 100 points a game — Miami, Denver, and Oklahoma City.

It was 44 years after Chamberlain in Hershey before someone even got to 80 points. Kobe Bryant scored 81 on Jan. 22, 2006, in the Lakers’ 122-104 win over Toronto. No NBA player has ever finished in the 90s.

That means the two top scoring performances in NBA history have come from native Philadelphians.

Aside from Bryant, only two others have topped 70 in the half-century since Chamberlain’s 100. David Thompson hit for 73 in 1978 and David Robinson scored 71 in 1994.

Tough day

Poor Dajuan Wagner — his 100-point game on Jan. 16, 2001, wasn’t even the best high school performance that day.

Not long after Wagner torched Gloucester Township Tech, Cedrick Hensley of Texas’ Heritage Christian Academy scored 101.

The motivation behind Hensley’s explosion was bizarre. The game with Banff Christian was to be the 6-foot-4 junior’s last before he was to undergo testicular surgery.

“The guys all said, ‘Let’s send Ced out right,’ “ noted Heritage coach Jerome Tang.

“My teammates kept encouraging me,” said Hensley. “They told me how many points I had to go. I forgot to get the ball (after the game). It’s at the other school because I didn’t even think about it. I was just so tired.”

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