Chamberlain holds numerous official NBA all-time records, setting yardsticks in many scoring, rebounding and durability categories. Among others, he is the only player in NBA history to average more than 50 points in a season or score 100 points in a single game. He also won seven scoring, nine field goal percentage, and eleven rebounding titles, and once even led the league in assists. Although never receiving full recognition for his feats, Chamberlain had a successful career, making the NBA Finals six times, winning two NBA titles, earning four regular-season Most Valuable Player awards, one NBA Finals MVP award, and being elected into 13 All-Star games and into ten All-NBA First and Second teams. Chamberlain was subsequently enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978, elected into the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team of 1980, and chosen as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History of 1996. In addition to all of these accolades, Wilt is remembered for being one of the worst free throw shooters in the history of the league, with a career average around 50% (see free throw).
Off the court, Chamberlain was also a successful businessman, authored several books and appeared in the movie Conan the Destroyer. He was a lifelong bachelor, but became notorious for his claim to have had sex with 20,000 women, a statement which has entered popular culture.
Early years and Overbrook High School
Wilton Norman Chamberlain was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, into a family of nine children. In his early years, Chamberlain was an avid track and field athlete, posting statistics of a decathlete. As a youth, he high jumped 6 feet, 6 inches, ran the 440 yards in 49.0 seconds and the 880 yards in 1:58.3, put the shot 53 feet, 4 inches, and broad jumped 22 feet. He discovered basketball only in seventh grade, but soon found it was ideally suited for him; when Chamberlain entered Philadelphia's Overbrook High School, he was already 6 ft 11 in. There, Chamberlain established himself as one of the most dominant high school players of all time. He broke Tom Gola's high school scoring record by scoring 2,252 points and had three individual games in which he scored 90, 74 and 71 points.
In the days when so-called “big men” like 6 ft 10 in Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan were still a rare breed in the NBA, Chamberlain, who already stood 6 ft 11 in, terrified his high school opposition with his frame. It was also in this period of his life when his three life-long nicknames “Wilt the Stilt”, “Goliath”, and his favorite, “The Big Dipper”, were allegedly born because he always had to dip his head before entering a room. When Chamberlain left Overbrook in 1955, he had led them to a 56-3 win-loss record and two city championships, while averaging 37.4 points per game (ppg). Over 200 universities wanted to recruit the basketball prodigy, but Chamberlain then proclaimed he was going to play college basketball at the University of Kansas.
University of Kansas
In 1955, Chamberlain became a player for the Kansas Jayhawks freshman team under future Hall-of-Fame coach Phog Allen. In those days, freshmen could not compete with the varsity squad. In Chamberlain’s debut game for the freshman squad, the freshman Jayhawks were pitted against the varsity Jayhawks, who were favored to win their conference that year. Chamberlain dominated his older college mates by scoring 52 points (16-35 from the field, 10-12 on free throws), grabbing 29 rebounds and registering four blocks. As he did at Overbrook, Chamberlain again showcased his diverse athletic talent. He ran the 100-yard dash in 10.9 seconds, threw the shotput 56 feet, triple jumped more than 50 feet, and won the high jump in the Big Eight track and field championships three straight years.
On December 3, 1956, Chamberlain made his varsity debut. That year, he made the First Team of the All-America squad and led the University of Kansas into the NCAA finals against the Tar Heels of North Carolina. In that game, Tar Heels coach Frank McGuire used several unorthodox tactics to thwart Chamberlain. At the tip-off, he sent his shortest player, Tommy Kearns, in order to rattle him, and the Tar Heels spent the rest of the night triple-teaming Chamberlain, one defender in front, one behind and a third arriving as soon as he got the ball. The game went into three overtimes and North Carolina won 54-53. Nonetheless, Chamberlain was elected the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
In two years at Kansas, Chamberlain averaged 29.9 points and 18.3 rebounds per game (rpg) while totaling 1,433 points and 877 rebounds, and led Kansas to two Big Seven championships. With these figures, the public rapidly paid attention to the seven-foot-one basketball sensation. By the time Chamberlain was 21, he had already been featured in Time, Life, Look and Newsweek magazines, even before he turned professional.
After a frustrating junior year in which Kansas did not reach the NCAA Tournament, Chamberlain wanted to be paid for being double- and triple-teamed every night and become a professional player before finishing his senior year. However, at that time, the NBA did not accept players who had not finished their last year of studies. Therefore, Chamberlain was in limbo for a year, and decided to play for the Harlem Globetrotters in 1958 for a then-astronomical sum of $50,000.
So, Chamberlain became a member of the Globetrotters team which made history by playing in Moscow in 1959, enjoyed a sold out tour of the USSR and prior to the start of a game at Moscow's Lenin Central Stadium, were greeted by the General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. In later years, he fondly recalled his time as a Trotter, because he was no longer jeered at or asked to break records, but just one of several artists who loved to entertain the crowd. On March 9, 2000, Chamberlain’s number 13 was retired by the Trotters.
Philadelphia / San Francisco Warriors
On October 24, 1959, Chamberlain finally made his debut as a NBA player, starting for the Philadelphia Warriors. The Warriors’ draft pick was highly unusual, as it was a so-called “territorial pick” despite the fact Chamberlain had spent his college years in Kansas. However, Warriors’s owner Eddie Gottlieb, one of the NBA's founding fathers, argued that Chamberlain had grown up in Philadelphia and had become popular there as a high school player. Because there were no NBA teams in Kansas, he argued, the Warriors held his territorial rights and could draft him. The NBA agreed, marking the only time in NBA history that a player was made a territorial selection based on his pre-college roots.
In his rookie season, Chamberlain averaged an incredible 37.6 points and 27.0 rebounds, obliterating the previous regular-season records. He won both the NBA Most Valuable Player and NBA Rookie of the Year awards, a feat equaled only by fellow Hall-of-Famer Wes Unseld in the 1968-69 NBA season. Chamberlain capped off his rookie season awards by also winning the NBA All-Star Game MVP award with a 23 point, 25 rebound performance for the East.
However, in the Eastern Conference Finals, Chamberlain and his fellow future Hall-of-Fame team mates Tom Gola and Paul Arizin met the Boston Celtics with legendary center Bill Russell and Hall-of-Fame coach Red Auerbach. Despite Chamberlain's outscoring Russell by 81 points, the Warriors lost the series 2 games to 4. The rivalry between Chamberlain and his perennial nemesis Bill Russell would grow out to become the NBA’s greatest on-court rivalry of all time. Nevertheless, the two also became best friends in personal life, similar to later rivals Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
The rookie Chamberlain then shocked the Warriors' fans by saying he was thinking of retiring. He was tired of being subjected to double- and triple teams, and teams hacking him down with hard fouls. Chamberlain feared he might lose his cool one day. As Celtics forward Tom Heinsohn put it, "Half the fouls against him [Chamberlain] were hard fouls [...] he took the most brutal pounding of any player ever". In addition, Chamberlain was seen as a freak of nature, jeered at by the fans and scorned by the media. As Chamberlain often said, quoting coach Alex Hannum's explanation of his situation, "Nobody loves Goliath."
However, in the next season, Chamberlain surpassed his rookie season statistics as he averaged 38.4 ppg and 27.2 rebounds per game. He became the first player to break the 3,000-point barrier and the first and still only player to break the 2,000-rebound barrier for a single season, grabbing 2,149 boards. Chamberlain also won his first field goal percentage title, and set the all-time record for rebounds in a single game with 55. However, Chamberlain’s Warriors again failed to convert his stellar play into team success, this time bowing out against the Syracuse Nationals of Hall-of-Famer Dolph Schayes in a three game sweep.
Chamberlain took his game to even greater heights in his third season, as he set all-time records which have never been threatened since. In 1961-62, he averaged 50.4 points and grabbed 25.7 rebounds per game — Chamberlain's 4,029 regular-season points made him the first and only player to break the 4,000-point barrier. To place this in perspective the only player other than Chamberlain to break the 3,000-point barrier is Michael Jordan, who scored 3,041 points in the 1986-87 NBA season. Chamberlain once again broke the 2,000 rebound barrier by grabbing 2,052 rebounds.
Additionally, he was on the hardwood for an average of an equally mind-boggling 48.5 minutes, playing 3,882 of his team's 3,890 minutes. Because Chamberlain played in overtime games, he averaged more minutes per game than the 48 minutes in regulation. On March 2, 1962, Chamberlain delivered another incredible performance and became the first player to score 100 points in a single NBA game, in the 169-147 victory of his Warriors against the New York Knicks. To date, none of these records have ever been threatened.
His extraordinary feats in the 1962-63 NBA season were later subject of the book Wilt, 1962 by Gary M. Pomerantz (2005), who used Chamberlain as a metaphor for the uprising of Black America. In addition to Chamberlain's regular season accomplishments, he scored 42 points in the NBA All-Star Game -- still the all-time record -- on 17-23 shooting and pulled down 24 rebounds. However, the Warriors stranded again in the playoffs against Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics after a close Game 7 loss.
In the 1962-63 season, the Warriors had relocated from Philadelphia to San Francisco to become the San Francisco Warriors. Chamberlain continued his array of statistical feats, scoring 44.8 points and grabbing 24.3 rebounds per game that year. However, despite his incredible statistics, the Warriors missed the playoffs. In the following season of 1963-64 Chamberlain had another superb season with 36.9 ppg / 22.3 rpg, and the San Francisco Warriors went all the way to the NBA Finals, but then succumbed to the fantastic Boston Celtics team of Bill Russell again, this time 1-4. In the Russell-Chamberlain matchups, Russell now had a 3-0 post-season edge despite getting offensively outplayed regularly on a statistical level.
In the following season, the Warriors ran into financial trouble. At the 1965 All-Star break, Chamberlain was traded back to Philadelphia to the Philadelphia 76ers, the new name of the relocated Syracuse Nationals, who had left Syracuse to move to Philadelphia. In return, the Warriors received Paul Neumann, Connie Dierking, Lee Shaffer (who opted to retire rather than report to The Warriors), and $150,000. When Chamberlain left the Warriors, owner Franklin Mieuli said: “Chamberlain is not an easy man to love and the fans in San Francisco never learned to love him. Wilt is easy to hate […] people came to see him lose.”
After the trade, Chamberlain found himself in a promising Sixers team that included guards Hal Greer, a future Hall-of-Famer, and talented role players Larry Costello, Chet Walker and Lucious Jackson. Chamberlain was again outstanding, posting 34.7 ppg and 22.9 rpg for the season. However, as with the Warriors, Bill Russell’s Celtics beat Chamberlain’s squad soundly 4-1 and established the Russell-Chamberlain score at 4-0 in six years.
In the 1964-65 NBA season, the Sixers posted a record 55-25 regular season, and for his strong play, Chamberlain was handed his second MVP award. In that season, the giant center again dominated his opposition by scoring 33.5 points and 24.6 rebounds a game, leading the league in both categories. In the Eastern Conference Finals that year, the Sixers fought the Celtics again, and they split the first six games. The decision came down to the final seconds of Game 7, when the Celtics won by one point with a legendary play: when the 76ers' Hal Greer attempted to inbound the ball, John Havlicek stole it to preserve the Celtics' lead.
For the fifth time in seven years, Russell’s team had deprived Chamberlain of the title. According to Chamberlain, that was the time that people started calling him “loser”. Additionally, in an April 1965 issue of Sports Illustrated Chamberlain conducted an interview entitled "My Life In A Bush League" where he criticized his fellow players, coaches, and NBA administrators. Chamberlain later commented that he could see in hindsight how the interview was instrumental in damaging his public image.
Prior to the 1966-67 NBA season, Sixers coach Alex Hannum talked to the center and persuaded him to change his style of play. Loaded with several other players who could score, such as future Hall-of-Famers Hal Greer and new recruit Billy Cunningham, Hannum wanted Chamberlain to concentrate more on defense. As a consequence, Chamberlain's averaged 24.1 points, but he led the league in rebounds (24.2), ended third in assists (7.8), had a record shattering .683 field goal accuracy, and played strong defense. For these feats, Chamberlain earned his third MVP award. The Sixers charged their way to a then-record 68-13 season, including a record 46-4 start.
The Sixers easily defeated the Boston Celtics with 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals; after five frustrating losses, Chamberlain had finally vanquished his nemesis Bill Russell. Then, the Sixers defeated San Francisco 4-2 in the 1967 NBA Finals. Chamberlain at last had won his first championship, contributing with 17.7 ppg and an incredible 28.7 rpg against fellow future Hall-of-Fame pivot Nate Thurmond, never failing to snare at least 23 rebounds in the six games. Chamberlain himself described the team as the best in NBA history. In 2002, writer Wayne Lynch wrote a book about this remarkable Sixers season, Season of the 76ers, centering on Chamberlain.
In the 1967-68 NBA season, Chamberlain continued his focus on team play and registered 24.3 points and 23.8 rebounds a game for the season. The 76ers had the best record in the league for the third straight season. Chamberlain made history by becoming the first and only center in NBA history to finish the season as the leader in assists, his 702 beating runner-up, Hall-of-Fame point guard Lenny Wilkins's total by 23. For these feats, Chamberlain won his fourth and last MVP title.
In the 1968 Eastern Division Finals, the Sixers took a 3-1 lead against the Celtics, but Boston tied the series. In the second half of Game 7, Chamberlain did not attempt a single shot from the field, and the Sixers lost the game and the series. Asked later for the reason, he simply stated that coach Hannum had not told him to shoot. The loss meant that Chamberlain was now 1-6 in playoff series against the Celtics.
After that season, coach Alex Hannum left the Sixers to coach the Oakland Oaks in the newly-founded ABA. Chamberlain then asked for a trade, and Sixers general manager Jack Ramsay traded him for Darrall Imhoff, Archie Clark and Jerry Chambers. The motivation for this move remain in dispute. According to sports writer Roland Lazenby, a journalist close to the Los Angeles Lakers, Sixers owner Irv Kosloff broke a promise to hand over Chamberlain part of the franchise, infuriating the superstar, but according to Dr. Jack Ramsay, who was the Sixers general manager then, Chamberlain also threatened to jump to the ABA after Hannum left, and forced the trade himself.
Los Angeles Lakers
With the new star center, the Lakers of Elgin Baylor and Jerry "Mr. Clutch" West became instant favorites to win the 1969 NBA Finals. However, among others, SPORT magazine (March 1969) publicly doubted their ability to mesh with each other. In addition, Chamberlain soon got into trouble with Lakers coach Bill van Breda Kolff, who accused him of slacking off in practice and focusing too much on statistics. In any case, Chamberlain averaged 20.5 points and 21.1 rebounds a game that season, and the Lakers stormed through the playoffs. They were heavily favored to win the 1969 NBA Finals against the Celtics, but split the first six games and lost 106-108 in Game 7. Chamberlain, who had hurt his leg with six minutes left, and was benched by Van Breda Kolff until the end, was accused of being a malingerer who gave up when it seemed the Lakers would lose. As such, Bill Russell ended his career with winning his seventh out of eight series against his best friend Chamberlain.
In his second Lakers year under new coach Joe Mullaney, Chamberlain seriously injured his knee. He missed almost the entire 82-game regular season, only appearing in 12 games, averaging 27.3 points, 18.4 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game. Again, the Lakers charged through the playoffs, and in the 1970 NBA Finals, the Lakers were pitted against the rugged New York Knicks, loaded with future Hall-of-Famers Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere, Bill Bradley, and Walt Frazier. The Knicks took a 3-1 lead, but center Reed injured his leg. The Lakers tied the series and seemed winners before Game 7 in New York. However, Reed famously hobbled up court, won the tip against Chamberlain, scored the first four points, and inspired his team to one of the most famous playoff upsets of all time. Chamberlain scored only 21 points on 16 shots, although Reed was hardly able to move and often had to be subbed, making the game perhaps his greatest on-court failure.
In the 1970-71 NBA season, the Lakers made a notable move by signing future Hall-of-Fame guard Gail "Stumpy" Goodrich. Chamberlain averaged 20.7 points, 18.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists, once again led the NBA in rebounding and the Lakers won the Pacific Division title. However, after losing Elgin Baylor to a knee injury that effectively ended his career, the Lakers failed to reach the 1971 NBA Finals, getting easily defeated by the championship-bound Milwaukee Bucks with young future Hall-of-Fame pivot Lew Alcindor, better known under his later Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and veteran superstar guard Oscar Robertson with 1-4. After the 1971 playoffs, Chamberlain had the offer to fight heavyweight boxing legend Muhammad Ali. The 15-round fight would have taken place on July 26, 1971 in the Houston Astrodome but Chamberlain finally refused the match. In an 1999 interview, Chamberlain stated that boxing trainer Cus D'Amato wanted to train him for the fight, and they offered Ali and him $5 million each to battle each other. However, after checking back with his father, Chamberlain finally said no.
In the 1971-72 NBA season, the Lakers hired former Celtics star guard Bill Sharman as head coach. Sharman introduced morning shoot-arounds and transformed the veteran Chamberlain into a defensive-minded, low-scoring post defender in the mold of his old rival Bill Russell. Chamberlain accepted his new role and posted an all-time low 14.8 points, but also won the rebound crown with 19.2 rpg and led the league with a .649 field goal accuracy. Powered by his defensive presence, the Lakers would embark on an unprecedented 33 game win streak en-route to a then-record 69 wins in the regular season.
In the post-season, the Lakers defeated the Bulls in a sweep, then went on to face the Milwaukee Bucks of young superstar center and regular-season MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar again. The Chamberlain-Jabbar matchup was hailed by LIFE magazine as the greatest matchup in all of sports. Chamberlain would help lead the Lakers past Jabbar and the Bucks in 6 games, and performed so well in the series that TIME magazine stated, "In the N.B.A.'s western division title series with Milwaukee, he (Chamberlain) decisively outplayed basketball's newest giant superstar, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, eleven years his junior." They then beat the New York Knicks in the 1972 NBA Finals thereby acquiring the first Lakers title since moving to Los Angeles by convincingly winning the series 4-1. In the series against the Knicks, Chamberlain averaged 19.2 points and 23.2 rebounds per game, and was elected Finals MVP.
The 1972-73 NBA season was to be Chamberlain’s last, although he did not know this at the time. In his last NBA year, he averaged 13.2 points and 18.6 rebounds, still enough to win the rebounding crown for the 11th time in his career. In addition, he shot with an all-time NBA record .727 accuracy from the field, bettering his own mark of .683 from the 1966-67 season — neither percentage has been topped by any other player. It was the ninth time Chamberlain would lead the league in field goal percentage. The Lakers won 60 games in the regular season and reached the 1973 NBA Finals. The Lakers won Game 1 with 115-112, but the Knicks stormed back to win the next four games, powered by NBA Finals MVP Willis Reed and their newest addition, slick Hall-of-Fame shooting guard Earl "The Pearl" Monroe. Chamberlain did not yet know that this loss was the last professional game of his career.
San Diego Conquistadors
In 1973, the San Diego Conquistadors of the NBA rival league ABA signed Chamberlain as a player-coach. However, the Lakers sued their former star and successfully prevented him from actually playing, because he still owed them the option year of his contract. In his single season as a coach, the Conquistadors went a mediocre 37-47 in the regular season and lost against the Utah Stars in the Conference Semifinals. After the season, Chamberlain retired from professional basketball.
After his stint with the Conquistadors, Chamberlain became bored with coaching jobs. He successfully went into business and entertainment, made money in stocks and real estate, opened a popular Harlem nightclub, Smalls Paradise, and invested in broodmares. Chamberlain also sponsored his personal professional volleyball and track and field teams, and made money by appearing in ads for Drexel Burnham, Le Tigre Clothing and Foot Locker. In addition, Chamberlain played a supporting role alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Conan the Destroyer (1984). He also published several books, among them Who's Running the Asylum? Inside the Insane World of Sports Today (1997), in which he harshly criticized the NBA of the 1990s for being too disrespectful of players of the past.
Chamberlain was fit enough in his mid-forties to humble a young Los Angeles Lakers rookie called Magic Johnson in practice, and even in the 1980s, he flirted with making a comeback in the NBA. In the 1980-81 NBA season, coach Larry Brown recalled that the 45-year old Chamberlain had received an offer by the Cleveland Cavaliers. When Chamberlain was 50, the New Jersey Nets had the same idea, and Chamberlain declined again. Chamberlain however participated in several marathons instead. He would stay an epitome of physical fitness for years to come, until his health rapidly worsened in 1999.
The 7-foot-1, two-time NBA champion Chamberlain is universally regarded as one of the most extraordinary and dominant basketball players ever. The two-time NBA champion and 1972 NBA Finals MVP is holder of numerous official NBA all-time records, establishing himself as a scoring champion, all-time top rebounder and setting yardsticks in field goal accuracy. He was also responsible for several rule changes, such as widening the lane, regarding inbounding the ball and shooting free throws.
For his feats, Chamberlain was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame (1978), named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996), ranked #2 in SLAM Magazine's Top 75 NBA Players of all time (2003) and #13 in the ESPN list "Top North American athletes of the century" and voted second best center of all time by ESPN behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on March 6, 2007. His on-court rivalry against Bill Russell is acknowledged as the greatest NBA rivalry of all time.
Chamberlain was one of nine children of Olivia and William Chamberlain. Chamberlain remembers having a comfortable, middle-class upbringing, unaffected by racial or religious issues. He had few reservations about joining Overbrook High School, a school with many Jewish students, and all his life strongly opposed bigotry of any kind. Chamberlain was one of basketball's first big earners; as a Laker, he earned $250,000 a year. Therefore, he could afford a level of luxury few other athletes at that time could permit themselves, such as renting an apartment in New York. In addition, he would often stay out until late in the night and only wake up at noon.
In Bel-Air, Chamberlain built a million-dollar mansion he called “Ursa Major”. (The stars of the Big Dipper appear in that constellation.) It had a 2,200-pound pivot as a front door and contained great displays of luxury. Chamberlain lived alone, relying on a great deal of automated gadgets, with only two cats named Zip and Zap as company. In addition, Chamberlain drove a Ferrari, a Bentley, and engaged James Bond car designer Peter Bohanna to design the Chamberlain Searcher I, a $400,000 custom sports car.
Although living alone, Chamberlain regularly mingled into the public, having no problems being recognized as Wilt Chamberlain and refraining from having great entourages. These facts impressed his team mate Jerry West, who later wrote the foreword to Chamberlain's biography Wilt: Larger Than Life by Robert Cherry (2004). Sixers’ ex-general manager Dr. Jack Ramsay confirmed these facts, recalling Chamberlain regularly took walks in downtown Philadelphia and acknowledged honking hoots with the air of a man enjoying all the attention. West also stated that Chamberlain was friendly and well-informed, but tended to have strong opinions and came over as a bit aloof because he thought he was the best in everything. Chamberlain always wore rubber bands around his wrists, at first to hold up his socks, then just for effect. Less well known is that for decades Chamberlain organized, sponsored, and supported high-level teams for girls and women in basketball, track, volleyball and softball.
"20,000 women" claim
In 1991, Chamberlain wrote his second autobiography, A View from Above. There, the lifelong bachelor Chamberlain made his most notorious claim, namely stating he had sex with 20,000 women. For this to be true, he would have had to have sex with more than nine women a week, starting when he was 15 and continuing for 40 years. Quickly, he became target for jokes and jibes, and fellow African-American superstar Arthur Ashe was highly critical, blasting Chamberlain for embarrassing black men and fueling prejudices about their sexual behavior. Chamberlain defended himself “I was just doing what was natural -- chasing good-looking ladies, whoever they were and wherever they were available” and pointed out he never started a relationship with a married woman.
In a 1999 interview shortly before his death, Chamberlain regretted not explaining the sexual climate at the time of his escapades, and warned other men who admired him for it, closing with the words: "Having a thousand different ladies is pretty cool, I have learned in my life I've found out that having one woman a thousand different times is much more satisfying." Chamberlain also acknowledged he never came close to marrying, and had no intention of raising any children.
Chamberlain had a history of heart trouble. In 1992, Chamberlain was hospitalized for three days following an irregular heartbeat, and in 1999, his situation deteriorated rapidly. After undergoing dental surgery in that year, he lost 50 pounds, was in great pain and seemed unable to recover from the stress. On October 12, 1999, Chamberlain died at age 63 in Bel-Air, California. His agent Sy Goldberg stated Chamberlain died of congestive heart failure, and for about a month, doctors had been draining his legs of fluid that had accumulated because of the heart problem. He was survived by sisters Barbara Lewis, Margaret Lane, Selina Gross and Yvonne Chamberlain, and brothers Wilbert and Oliver Chamberlain.
NBA players and officials mourned the loss of a player they universally remembered as a symbol of the sport. His lifelong on-court nemesis and personal friend Bill Russell stated "the fierceness of our competition bonded us together for eternity", and legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach praised Chamberlain as vital for the success of the entire NBA. Ex-Lakers team mate Jerry West fondly remembered him as an utterly dominant, yet friendly and humorous player, and fellow Hall-of-Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Johnny Kerr, Phil Jackson and Wes Unseld as well as later stars like Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan universally called Chamberlain one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.
Chamberlain in popular culture
Libertarian philosopher Robert Nozick created the "Wilt Chamberlain example". He states that if fans agreed to pay to see him play, then Chamberlain was entitled to higher compensation because of his superior ability [on the court], in order to demonstrate that non-entitlement theories of justice were inherently unjust.
The character in the animated television series Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends, Wilt, a tall, lanky, basketball fan and imaginary friend, is named after Chamberlain.