This Day In History: March 2

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On March 2, 1962, Philadelphia Warriors center Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points against the New York Knicks during a home game in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It was the first time that a professional basketball player had scored 100 points in a single contest; the previous record, 78, had been set by Chamberlain earlier in the season. During the game, Chamberlain sank 36 field goals and 28 foul shots, both league records.

Wilt Chamberlain was born on August 21, 1936, in Philadelphia. He grew to a full 7 feet 1 inches tall, and was an amazing athlete for his size: In addition to basketball, he competed in the high jump and long jump in college and played volleyball, helping to launch a professional league in which he competed after his basketball career ended. Chamberlain’s basketball heroics began at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, where he helped his team to two city championships.

At the University of Kansas, he led the Jayhawks to the NCAA championship, which they lost to North Carolina in triple overtime, 54-53. During his college career, Chamberlain was often the target of aggressive play and the North Carolina game was no exception—at one point, Tarheel Pete Brennan grabbed Chamberlain around the waist and began to wrestle him. Tired of being abused by his opponents, Chamberlain left Kansas after his junior year. At the time, the NBA prohibited the signing of college-aged players, so Chamberlain spent a year playing with the Harlem Globetrotters before signing with the Warriors in 1959.

Wilt was an immediate sensation in the NBA, and the most dominant offensive force the league had ever seen. He was named Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player for the 1959-60 season, his first of four MVP awards. During the 1961-62 season–Chamberlain’s most dominant offensively–he averaged 50.4 points per game (breaking his own record of 38.4 points per game from 1960-61) and 25.7 rebounds per game. He later led the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers to NBA championships, in 1967 and 1972, respectively.

Chamberlain’s career, however, was marred by his frustration over continued physical abuse, particularly at the hands of the Boston Celtics, led by Chamberlain’s good friend and on-the-court foil Bill Russell. The matter was made worse by Chamberlain’s poor free-throw shooting, and fans and the media continuously heckled and questioned him about his notorious struggles with foul shots.

Chamberlain retired from the NBA after the 1972-73 season. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978. Chamberlain gained notoriety later in life by claiming in his autobiography, A View From Above (1991), that he had slept with 20,000 women in his lifetime. On October 12, 1999, he died of a heart attack at his home in Los Angeles. He was 63 years old.