No its not Michael Jordan, no its not LeBron James. The real greatest player of all time is Wilt Chamberlain, and let me tell you why.
While stats do play an important role in calculating who is better than who, there are other aspects of a players game to take note of. Shear dominance is the most pertinent. The number one argument against Wilt Chamberlain’s game is that the game itself was different back then, and he was playing against a bunch of munchkins.
The average height in the NBA in 1960 (when Wilt was in his prime) was 77.40 inches. Now looking at today’s game. The average height in 2014 was only increased to 78.61 inches. In terms of weight, back in 1960, the average player weighed 206.6 pounds, and by 2014 it had only slightly moved up to 213.
So it is impossible to deny the fact that Chamberlain played in a smaller league, but in all honesty, it’s no where close to as big a gap as anyone has ever made it out to be.
Also on the topic of dominance, no one changed the game like Chamberlain did, and by “changed” I mean it really changed, everything from rules of the game to the actual dimensions of various court lines. Perhaps the most inspiring and impressive feature of Chamberlain was his adaptation to these changes (made specifically for him) and his ability to push them off and find other ways to stay dominant.
The most noted change made was the NBA changing the width of the key by an extra 4 ft. Making it more difficult for Wilt to simply catch the ball in the post, turn around and dunk or finger roll it with his 7’1″ frame. How did he respond? By fine-tuning the turn around jumper. If the lane forced him out a few feet, he just got his 2 points by shooting back a few feet.
Another rule that was implemented to alleviate the dominance of Chamberlain was offensive goal-tending. It was all too easy for Wilt’s teammates to chuck up the rock in the direction of the basket, if it went in, great, if it was close, Chamberlain was there to throw it in.
Rule changes are an added bonus to assess the greatness of any player, however most people who like to argue the GOAT’s of any sport like to bring stats into the mix. If you do that, then there is no argument for any player other than Chamberlain. The favorite stat to use when talking about basketball is points per game (PPG).
In the history of the NBA, Wilt Chamberlain has posted the top four statistical years for PPG; (50.4) (44.83) (38.39) (37.60). In a single game, everyone knows about Wilt’s 100 point game, which Kobe came close to (not really) with 81.
Of players to score 60 or more points in a single game, LeBron has done it once. Jordan has done it 5 times, and Kobe was good for 6 games 60 or over. Wilt Chamberlain went for 60 or more in 32 games. So yes, people like Klay Thompson get hot every now and again to hit 60, but it was no fluke when Wilt the Stilt did it, just another day at the office.
Considering the fact that Wilt Chamberlain was a big man, it seems only logical that we bring rebounds into the mix; a stat that Chamberlain dominated. Of the 14 seasons that Wilt played, he led the league in rebounds for 11 of them. For his illustrious career, he averaged (yes averaged) 22.89 rebounds per game. To put it into perspective, that’s more than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon COMBINED.
Another great aspect to look at when considering the greatest ever is the ability to do whatever you want on the court, whenever you want. The 1967-68 season for Chamberlain is a great year to bring up in this case. This was the year that Chamberlain declared that he was going to lead the league in assists. By the end of the year, that’s right, you guessed it, he led the league in assists. Not to mention he was still able to rack up 24.3 points per game, and a stunning 23.8 rebounds per game.
Another keystone stat of the big man is blocked shots. Now Chamberlain played in a time where blocks weren’t always recorded. But he did play in 112 games where blocks were recorded, and he averaged a frightening 8.8 blocks per game. The NBA record for blocks per game since the stat was officially used is 3.5 by Mark Eaton. The point being, if Wilt didn’t want you to score in the paint, you simply weren’t scoring in the paint.
Of course Championship rings is going to come up, the only real weak topic when debating Chamberlain’s greatness. While Chamberlain only won two rings, rings are won by teams, and during Chamberlain’s reign, was the historic run of the Boston Celtics. No matter how great a player, a team will always beat a single player, and we aren’t talking about the greatest teams, we are talking about the greatest single player.
Chamberlain never back down, every time he went into Boston, he went toe to toe with the great Bill Russell, which created the most entertaining and impressive 1v1 rivalry of all time, not to mention the beginning of one of the greatest team rivalries across all sports.
Just to touch upon a few other remarkable feats of Wilt the Stilt, the man never fouled out of a game. He led the league in the minutes per game for 9 seasons, a difficult stat to lead in as a big man, who carries a lot more mass up and down the court, powers through constant double teams, and takes a beating day in and day out.
Even if it wasn’t the NBA, Chamberlain was shining. He started off as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, became enshrined in the Volleyball Hall of Fame, attempted to enter the boxing ring against Muhammad Ali, and had a few successful stints as a Hollywood actor.
All in all, the greatest player in the history of the NBA may forever be an opinion, with no definitive answer. Wilt Chamberlain has my vote, and without a doubt must be considered in anyone’s list.