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100 Points! Impossible!

| March 2, 2022

By Mark Wainwright
Talk Host/Voice Talent

 

SYRACUSE — It’s hard to believe in 2022 that NBA teams of the past struggled – sometimes desperately – to sell tickets. Decades ago, NBA clubs would often schedule “home” games in smaller nearby towns to drum up interest. That’s why the Philadelphia Warriors and the New York Knicks were playing a Philadelphia “home” game in Hershey, Pennsylvania on Friday night, March 2, 1962.

There were no great expectations for the game. The Warriors, led by their young star Wilt Chamberlain, were having a fine year, but their playoff seeding was already locked in. The Knicks were having a terrible season (as they often did back in those days), and they were on the way to a last-place finish. Neither club seemed to be taking the game seriously, and over the years, it’s become apparent that several players from both teams heartily amused themselves the previous evening.

Phil Jordon was the starting center for the Knicks, and was the only player on the roster who had any hope of defending Chamberlain… but he was scratched from the lineup due to “illness.” Years later, teammates and others close to the situation claimed that Jordon had gone on a bender the night before and was too hung over to function, let alone play. It was left to reserve center Darrall Imhoff and a couple of less-experienced players to guard Chamberlain. Good luck.

Wilt later admitted in several interviews that he had gone on a “date” the previous evening, did not sleep, and dropped the young lady off at her Manhattan apartment at 6:30 in the morning. Presumably, a good time was had by all (maybe they were playing chess?). Moreover, even though Philadelphia was Wilt’s home town and he was playing for his home town’s team, he preferred the bright lights and action of New York and resided there. He was friendly with some of the New York players, so instead of going to Hershey on the team bus, he caught a ride with a couple of Knicks and tried to nap in the back seat (it was indeed a different time). Players from both cities eventually arrived at the old (even then) Hershey Park Arena and hung out until tipoff; checking into a hotel to rest for a few hours was not considered worth the expense.

Chamberlain himself was probably the first to realize something was in the air that night. The arena had an amusement arcade on the ground floor, so Wilt decided to kill time (and attempt to wake up) by visiting the arcade, which included an old-fashioned shooting gallery.

He couldn’t miss.

Both Wilt and curious bystanders were astonished by the big man’s aim as he blew away one target after another; he later said he was amazed at how sharp and clear-eyed he was, especially given the circumstances. Whatever the magic was, Chamberlain was on fire from the opening tip and never looked back. During the third quarter, it became obvious what he and the Warriors wanted to do, and the Knicks tried everything imaginable to avoid the embarrassment of an opponent torching them for a hundred points.

Chamberlain was a notoriously bad free-throw shooter, so the Knicks started trying to foul him, put him on the line, and get the ball back without additional scoring damage (this was the original form of the “Hack-A-Shaq” tactic used against Shaquille O’Neal a generation later). It didn’t work. As awful as he usually was from the foul line, his aim was still in shooting gallery mode… he went 28-for-32 that night.

So New York then tried to milk the 24-second clock on each possession and foul everyone else but Wilt when they were on defense, anything to keep the ball out of Chamberlain’s hands. It didn’t matter, as the Warriors were totally committed to getting the ball to Wilt at every opportunity.

With 46 seconds left, the Warriors grabbed an offensive rebound and fed the ball to Wilt, who was planted down low, close to the hoop. He turned and released a gentle finger-roll dunk/layup for the ultimate basket.

Sportscaster Bill Campbell was calling the game for WCAU, CBS Radio’s big 50,000-watt station in Philadelphia (it is now known as WPHT, owned by Audacy Inc.). He was typically as stoic and solid as concrete, but he could not hide his emotions this time:

“He made it! He made it! A Dipper Dunk! He made it! The fans are all over the floor. They stopped the game. People are running out on the court! One hundred points for Wilt Chamberlain! They stopped the game! People are crowding around him…. the Warrior players are all over him. Fans are coming out of the stands. Forty-six seconds are left. The most amazing scoring performance of all time! One hundred points by the Big Dipper!”

Here is a link to audio of that historic moment, as preserved by the Library of Congress:

Wilt scores 100! Bill Campbell of WCAU calls it–

It was long believed the referees waved off the remaining seconds and called the game at that point, but it’s now documented that they did finally clear the floor and played out the remaining time, probably because they wanted to ensure that the game (and Chamberlain’s record) would be cited as “official,” without any sort of asterisk in the books. Wilt actually stayed on the floor through the end, but he stood apart from the action. He later said he liked the idea of 100, a nice round number, and since he was friendly with several of his opponents – after all, he needed a ride back to New York – he didn’t want to rack up even more and make it worse for them. And if you’re wondering, yes, Philadelphia won 169-147.

The following day, the game was a big story in newspaper sports sections around the country, and Chamberlain later made brief appearances on TV shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “I’ve Got A Secret,” but in the following days, the story just kind of … disappeared. It just faded away. If a current NBA star like LeBron James or Stephen Curry scored 100 points, it would instantly become worldwide news, and we would constantly see highlights on ESPN and elsewhere. But this was 1962, and very few people actually witnessed it.

The game was not televised, and there is no videotape. There is no known film or newsreel footage. There were only a couple reporters and photographers, and just a handful of black-and-white pictures, none of the ultimate basket (photos you find on the internet that purportedly captured the 100th point were all taken at other Knicks/Warriors matchups).

The posted attendance was a modest 4,124 (the Hershey Bears, the town’s beloved minor-league hockey team, regularly drew bigger crowds), and over the years, many of the attendees – not to mention players and team officials – have passed on.

That left Bill Campbell’s radio call (the Knicks didn’t even bother to send a broadcast crew), but just temporarily. WCAU rebroadcast the historic game in the early morning hours, but the recording was later lost, or simply erased and reused. Quality recording tape wasn’t cheap, and in those days, unspliced tape was often reused this way — Johnny Carson never forgave NBC for wiping and reusing hundreds of his “Tonight Show” tapes from the 1960’s.

So did it all just disappear? Not quite…

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In March of 1962, Jim Trelease was a student at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He spent his teen years in nearby Springfield, and given that Springfield was where basketball originated, he became a big basketball fan, especially of the early NBA. He would listen to broadcasts from various NBA cities whenever he could pick them up, and he sometimes made extraordinary efforts to improve reception.

On that Friday night, he wanted to hear WCAU’s broadcast, so he improvised a five-story high antenna by linking his transistor radio to the steam pipes in his dormitory building. And since it was Friday night, many of the residents were out of the dorms, so he could reduce the static even further by shutting off the fluorescent lights in the bathrooms and hallways.

Almost unbelievably, he fell asleep during the game! But he awoke to hear that WCAU would rebroadcast portions of the game at 3:30 that morning. In a 2016 interview, he told New England Public Radio:

“I had my girlfriend’s — who’s now my wife — I had my girlfriend’s tape recorder in the closet. So I got that out, put it up against the radio alongside of the pipes, kept myself awake until 3:30, went around the dormitory, turned off all the fluorescent lights, prayed that no one would need to use the facilities, and taped the game.”

 Meanwhile, earlier that evening, somewhere in the Philadelphia area, a Warriors’ fan named Samuel B. Marcus was listening to the game and realized he might be hearing history unfold. Little is known of Sam Marcus, but we know he had access to a Dictaphone machine, and since the Dictabelt recording medium had a limited capacity, he decided to record only the Philadelphia possessions during the second half.

In both instances, it seems these two gentlemen recorded what they could, enjoyed doing so, and subsequently stashed the recordings and largely forgot about them. Why would they be concerned? It was one of the greatest moments in sports history, so there had to be multiple high-quality recordings archived in various places, right? Neither one knew they were the only two people on the planet who had saved Bill Campbell’s radio call from oblivion.

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More than 25 years later, Jim Trelease was an established journalist, author, and children’s literacy advocate, and while on a speaking tour, he was having dinner with Paul Serff, the director of the Hershey Amusement Park complex and a trustee of the Hershey Community Archives. The discussion turned to notable sports events that happened in and around Hershey, so Chamberlain’s 100 points was an obvious topic. Serff mentioned that the local archives didn’t have any recording of the radio broadcast, and in fact the NBA had definitively informed them that no such recording existed anywhere. Trelease later wrote:

I could suddenly feel the moldy brown audiotape in my basement coming back to life. “What would you give,” I asked him, leaning across his plate, “for a recording of the whole last quarter of that 100-point game?”

 His fork stopped midway to his mouth, his eyes widened, and he gasped, “There’s a recording?”

 “Yup. I made it that night in my dormitory room and I’ve had it in my basement for years.”

 The conversation became quite intense after that, and it was decided that Jim would happily offer the tape to the Hershey Community Archives, provided they promised to preserve and care for the recording and make a fresh cassette copy for him. The original recording eventually wound up in an NBA vault.

At about the same time, someone at the NBA learned of the Samuel B. Marcus recording. The details on this are very sparse, but I recently spoke with Todd Caso, who was the NBA’s archivist at the time and still works with the league on a part-time consulting basis. He told me that he could not remember how the league got their hands on it or who might even know the story, but the league entrusted both recordings to Caso, who had a New York recording studio carefully transfer the content to digital files. He then combined the cleanest parts of each recording into one extended segment. The final version preserves much of the third quarter and all of the fourth, along with the post-game wrap-up. Todd informed me he was pretty sure that the original Dictaphone recording was made live and in real time, which made it especially significant.

On March 23, 2016, the Library of Congress announced that the rescued audio of the game would be inducted into the National Recording Registry. It was part of the “class” of recordings nominated in 2015 as having exceptional “cultural, artistic and/or historical significance to American society and the nation’s aural legacy.” The audio is also an important part of the Library’s Radio Preservation Project, as it is considered an irreplaceable artifact of the nation’s radio and broadcasting history.

And that announcement just happened to occur on Jim Trelease’s 75th birthday. What a birthday present! Our thanks to radio, Jim Trelease, and Samuel B. Marcus (wherever you are) for saving this iconic moment for posterity.

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EPILOGUE

It would be almost impossible to list all the sources I used to compile this story. There’s a mountain of material out there, and while some is of questionable value and accuracy, much of it is solid and verifiable. One of the best sources is Jim Trelease himself. While he is now retired, he maintains an extensive website (www.trelease-on-reading.com), and his personal story of the 100-point game is featured.

Author Gary Pomerantz has become a scholar of Wilt Chamberlain’s career, the early days of the NBA, and the landmark 1962 game itself. He wrote a book about it (“Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era,” published by Crown in 2005) and has posted extensively online, including YouTube material. It’s easy to look him up.

The NBA produced a brief documentary about the game a few years ago. It contains snippets of the audio, background commentary from various contributors, and interview segments with notable NBA folks, including Chamberlain himself. It’s posted on YouTube and easy to find.

And then, of course, there’s the audio of the game. Several versions are available from various online sources, but this YouTube link takes you to one of the best ones I’ve heard:

Chamberlain 100 points – Bill Campbell of WCAU Radio

This runs about three minutes and leads up to the final basket. You can hear a sort of rotating, repetitive background noise in several places, so I’m guessing parts of this were lifted from the live, real time Dictaphone recording made by Samuel B. Marcus. I’ve had little success in finding detailed information about Sam Marcus and the story behind his recording, so if you know more, please feel free to share.

Finally, I’m sorry to say there’s a small, but vocal group of conspiracy theorists who insist that the 100-point game was a hoax, concocted by the NBA and co-conspirators in Hershey as a publicity stunt for the struggling league. There’s massive evidence and numerous eyewitnesses to the contrary, so I can only hope these people eventually give up and stop trying to soil a great athletic performance that deserves to be honored.

Mark Wainwright is a long-time radio personality and voiceover performer, and was most recently the morning host at WSYR in Syracuse. He can be reached through his LinkedIn page or email at: markwainwright@earthlink.net

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