Wilt’s 100-Point Game Revisited

On March 2nd we passed the 61st anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game against the Knicks.  The 100-pointer has been a very well-covered event by plenty of books (notably “Tall Tales” by Terry Pluto and “Wilt” by Robert Cherry) and articles looking into most of its nooks and crannies.  I thought we could dig a little deeper and see if we could find a few more interesting tidbits.  Before doing so, let’s go over some of the basics:

-Wilt scored 100 against a bad and undermanned Knicks team in a game played at a neutral site in Hershey, Pennsylvania late in the 1961-62 season.  The Knicks went 29-51 for the season and were the second worst team in the NBA.  New York’s center was 6’10 Darrall Imhoff, who fouled out against Wilt in 20 minutes.  Backup Phil Jordon was injured so the next biggest defenders were 6’9 rookie Cleveland Buckner and 6’6 Dave Budd.

-This 100-point game came during Wilt’s apex as a scorer.  He averaged a record 50.4 ppg that season (up from 38.4 ppg the prior season).  In terms of high octane offense, 1961-62 was about as high as it got, as NBA teams averaged a record 118.8 ppg (by comparison the current torrid NBA season is at an average of 114.3 ppg per team).

-The Warriors were up big in a meaningless game for both teams and when Wilt hit about 80 points, they decided to go for the record. The fourth quarter of the game was a bit farcical, with Philly force feeding Wilt and the Knicks desperately trying to stop it.  There are great quotes about the game in “Tall Tales.”  Tom Meschery said that, late in the game, “the Knicks were waiting until the 24-second clock was about to expire before they shot…they were [also] fouling everyone except Wilt so he wouldn’t get 100.”  Knicks Richie Guerin countered that the Warriors were also “fouling us immediately to get the ball back and give Wilt more chances.”  Al Attles also noted that Warriors coach Frank McGuire had Wilt at the point guard “down the stretch so that if New York wanted to foul someone, it had to be Wilt.”  Wilt said he was “embarrassed” by the game because “I pushed for 100 and it destroyed the game because I took shots that I normally never would.  I was not real fluid.  I mean, 63 shots?”  Guerin, who was present for Elgin Baylor’s 71-point game and Wilt’s 100-point game: “[i]n Wilt’s game, they set out to get him the record.  There was nothing artificial about Elgin’s 71.”  (Guerin was a tad bitter).

-Despite the weird fourth quarter, the weirdest part of the game was Wilt hitting 28 of 32 foul shots when he was a career .511% foul shooter.  The chances of his having such a hot night from the line were quite low.  1961-62 was Wilt’s best foul shooting season (.613%) but going .875% on 32 attempts still seems anomalous.  Had Wilt shot his season 61% average, we would expect an average yield of 20 makes on the 32 shots.

So, we can rightly conclude that Wilt’s 100 points were forced but still a crazy impressive accomplishment.  Digging a little deeper with the help of Basketball-Reference, here are a few more tidbits:

-Wilt’s big game didn’t come out of the blue.  He scored 64.3 ppg in the three games prior to the 100-point game and shot 45-59 (.763%) from the line at that time.  Over the four-game span that includes the 100-point game, Wilt shot 73-91 (.802%), the third best four game mark of his career (the other two were on only 12 attempts).  From both the field and the line, Wilt was riding a hot streak even relative to his historic pace that year.  For a little perspective, Wilt averaged 49.6 ppg through the first 72 games of the season before averaging 75.3 ppg during this super-hot four-game streak.

-Two days after the 100-point game, Wilt played the Knicks again, this time in New York.  They “held” Wilt to 58 points and 35 boards in a one-point win for the Warriors.

-32 free throws attempts was not Wilt’s highest.  His career high for attempts occurred when he went 19-34 against the Hawks on February 22, 1962.  The 28-32 (.875%) was Wilt’s best percentage in a game where he took at least 20 free throws (there were 89 regular season games of 20 or more attempts).   His worst came on January 4, 1967, when he shot 5-24 (.208%) from the line.  Wilt had only five 20 or more free throw games in the playoffs.  He shot 50% of more in three and won those games.  He shot 8-22 (April 17, 1968) and 8-25 (April 12, 1966), both close losses against Boston.

-The 63 field goal attempts may have been forced but Wilt shot well.  His other high attempt games were much less efficient.  Here’s a list of his top five shot attempt games:

Shot 36-63 (.571%) in a win on 3/2/62 (the 100-point game)

Shot 31-62 (.500%) in a loss on 12/8/61

Shot 27-58 (.466%) in a loss on 11/26/64

Shot 25-50 (.500%) in a win on 2/11/64

Shot 18-49 (.367%) in a loss on 1/26/64

Incidentally, the most shot attempts by a player not named Wilt or Elgin was George Gervin’s 49 attempts to score 63 points on April 9, 1978, the last game of the season, to clinch the scoring title in a 21-point loss (correction, Kobe’s final game and Rick Barry were each 50 shot games).  There are quite a few late season gunner games in NBA history so let’s not be too hard on Wilt for gunning to 100.  It may have been forced but Wilt was shooting quite well in Hershey and he made history that deserves to be appreciated on its terms.