The Big Dipper: Wilt Chamberlain | Part lll

With America at a crossroads, and the future of America up for grabs, Wilt rebuilds his reputation in Los Angeles, only to lose it all over again with an infamous boast.

Peetlesnumber1, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Episode Details

In the fall of 1968, Wilt left the 76ers to become the NBA’s first million-dollar man in Los Angeles. But a bitter relationship with his coach led to his benching during the closing minutes of the finals that season. It was a second very public humiliation and more evidence that his dreams of power and influence were being crushed. Wilt eventually won a second NBA championship in Los Angeles but retired from basketball the next season, still at his peak at 37. 

Wilt, Arnold, Andre – Conan The Destroyer (1984) | DeviantArt

In this episode, Wilt’s friends talk about how he tried to stay relevant, dabbling in professional volleyball and acting. But as the years passed, a new generation of stars, led by Michael Jordan, would remake the NBA with their speed and shot-making. Underdogs co-host Peter Keating returns to show why big men become dinosaurs. After largely retreating from public life, Wilt decided to write a memoir in 1991. Almost as an aside, he added the boast that he slept with 20,000 women.

A week after his book’s release, Magic Johnson announced he had HIV. As Wilt’s longtime girlfriend says in this episode, “It made him look like a total idiot. And he knew that.” We’ll hear how Wilt retreated to his mansion in Bel Air, his hopes at a comeback dashed, his life now defined by two cartoonish statistics — the 100-point game and 20,000-women boast.In October of 1999, the greatest player in basketball history died alone in his bed from heart failure. Even though dozens of his records still stood, he remained an incomplete man. As this episode ends, Keating and I talk about Wilt’s lost legacy and try to help him get some of it back.