Former teammate Attles reflects on Chamberlain's 100-point game
On March 2, 1962, Al Attles went 8-for-8 from the field while flipping in 17 points during the Philadelphia Warriors' victory over the New York Knicks. That total made the second-year shooting guard out of North Carolina A&T Philly's second-leading scorer -- a mere 83 points behind the high man, center Wilt Chamberlain, who that evening at the Hershey (Pa.) Arena set the single-game record with 100 points in the Warriors' 169-147 triumph.
Now 75 and the elder statesman of the Golden State Warriors (whom he coached to the 1975 NBA title), Attles admits he can be hazy on the details about the achievement that, a half-century later, remains the NBA's single-game high-water mark.
"For the longest time my memory had Wilt scoring his 100th point after getting three offensive rebounds and finally putting one in," he said. "But that actually happened on an earlier basket. The final basket came on a pass from Joe Ruklick. I got it wrong -- and I was there!"
But that is all of a piece in what over the years has become an almost mythical evening. The game, played before an announced crowd of 4,124, was neither televised nor filmed.
"I think one of the biggest tragedies of that day is that there is no film, no actual footage," Attles said. "The arena did not have the lights so they could film it. The only thing you have are people's memories, which get cloudy after a while. For a feat like that, you wish that there was a record of it. It gives rise to people coming up with anything they want to say about that game and then they'll say, Well, how do you know it didn't happen? For those of us who were there, they all know what happened. That includes the 50 million people who say they were in the arena. They must have been disguised as empty seats."
Some aspects remain vivid for Attles. On that night, Wilt went 36-for-63 from the floor. (Both numbers remain records.) The shot total, insists Attles, had more to do with his teammates constantly feeding Wilt than his desire to pile up points.
"His teammates were more excited about [the 100] than he was," Attles said. "When you have a guy who could do what he could do, you'd get the ball to him."
Attles said Wilt had some scorer's remorse.
"After the game, I happened to be sitting next to him in the locker room, and he had this strange look on his face," Attles said. "You would've thought the world had come to an end. I said, 'Big fella, what's the matter?' And he said, 'Alvin, I never thought I'd take 60 shots in a game.' He was really down. But he later told me that getting 50 rebounds in a game [Wilt had pulled down a still-record 55 against the Celtics on Nov. 24, 1960] was more important than scoring 100."
Otherwise, "it was a typical Wilt performance," Attles said. "He ran the floor, dunked the ball, shot it off the backboard" with his patented fallaway from 15 feet or so. "He loved that shot off the glass," Attles recalled. "'This is the best shot in the world,' he'd say. We'd say, 'No, the best shot is the one where you turn and dunk it.' He was out to prove a point, that he could do more than dunk. Plus, he made the 28 free throws [another record that still stands, on 32 attempts], which put him over the hump."
This was almost as staggering as the point total, because Wilt was notoriously woeful at the line, being a career 51.1 percent free-throw shooter. Moreover, that memorable round number of 100 almost was undershot -- or overshot.
"Very few people actually know that Wilt tried to come out before he got to 100," Attles said. "But [coach] Frank McGuire wouldn't take him out. And back then, players did what the coach said. But this supports my theory that Wilt wasn't trying to rub it in."
Then, after the Big Dipper hit the century mark, there still were 46 seconds to play, plenty of time for another hoop or two.
"One hundred sounds a lot better than 102," Attles said. "After the game, I said to him, 'Big fella, I'm so happy you didn't make one more basket.' "
Attles admitted that Wilt was aided by the prevailing defensive ethos of the day.
"Other than Boston -- which would have Bill Russell front him and Jim Loscutoff play behind him -- teams did not have an organized plan of playing Wilt," he said. "You couldn't expect a lot of help. If he beat you, only then would you get help. The players who had to guard him that night later would tell you how many points he scored off them: 'He got three baskets off of me,' for instance. If you count 'em all up, Wilt scored 15 to 20 points that night. But hey, he had to score 100 points off of somebody!"
Attles played with Chamberlain, in Philadelphia and San Francisco, then against him after Wilt was traded to the 76ers in 1965. He still marvels at larger-than-life aspects of his 7-foot-1, 275-pound friend, who died in 1999 at age 63.
"It was almost impossible to play defense against him," Attles said. "He was so strong. Guys would hang on him and hold him. We'd tell him, 'Why don't you just turn on them?' He'd say, 'I can't even feel them!' "
During that 1961-62 season Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points, another record that still stands.
"He was a revelation to the league," Attles said. "He upped the ante as far as attendance was concerned. Everyone wanted to see Wilt. And he delivered."
In the 50 years since that night, no NBA player has approached Wilt's 100. (Kobe Bryant scored 81 in 2006.) To Attles, that makes the mark loom larger than ever, even if it was set in a late-season game with no bearing in the standings and against a team that would finish 29-51.
"A lot of people pooh-poohed it, but it's only been done once," he said. "To me, that speaks volumes."
It would be virtually impossible for someone to score 100 today, according to Attles.
"The coaching now would make it difficult," he said. "They'd double-team or triple-team and get the ball out of the guy's hand, make him pass."
There is one change, Attles joked, that could put could put Wilt's record within reach.
"Maybe," he said, "if they start giving four points for a basket."