Catty-corner across a parking lot from the Kansas City Municipal Auditorium stands the faded red-brick Folly Burlesque, where Miss Beverly Styles—"the Anatomy Award winner"—and her road-show strippers and soubrettes usually practice their art for pursuers of long-lost youth. Through most of last week business had been pretty good for the Folly, with substantial attendance from among the several hundred gentlemen and several thousand college students assembled in Kansas City for the annual meeting of the nation's basketball coaches and the 1957 NCAA basketball championships. Then, last Friday and Saturday nights, a lean and curveless young man named Wilt Chamberlain stripped Miss Styles clean of customers.
This smooth-limbed giant, who was designed for basketball as surely as a corkscrew for bottle-opening or an eagle for flight, opened his two-night stand before as hep and hard-eyed an audience as could possibly be gathered—coaches and athletic directors from every state and conference. Despite his top billing, he quickly acquired two rivals for the applause of these experts. The first game on the program—between North Carolina and Michigan State—was a triple-overtime hugger-mugger of speed and suspense (won by Carolina 74-70) that was as tough to follow onstage as Bob Hope. The second performance to compete with Chamberlain's starring role was provided by his own Kansas teammates, who, in their following game with San Francisco, played brilliant basketball in every department—outdefensing a San Francisco squad considered the best in the nation in this category, fast-breaking like a covey of quail and shooting with the accuracy of five Annie Oakleys for a 59.6 percentage. In the inevitable destruction of San Francisco (80-56), however, Chamberlain was Lord High Executioner. He blocked, he dunked, he ran, he rebounded without a flaw.
After the game and all the next day, the lobby of the Muehlebach Hotel, local headquarters for the tournament, was astir and amurmur with coaches speculating on the payoff meeting between the two winners. Some were sure it would be a rout for Kansas, some expected a close Kansas victory.
CAME THE CHILL
April 1, 1957
In this heavy fog of one-sided opinion, one young man spoke up briskly but without heat. This was Tommy Kearns, guard, of North Carolina, a little (5 foot 11), blue-eyed bandit of a player who loves to steal the ball and drive for the basket like a getaway car on the lam. Said Kearns: "We're a chilly club. We play it chilly all the time. I mean we just keep cool. Chamberlain is not going to give us the jitters like he did to San Francisco and some of those other clubs."
The first 10 minutes of the game seemed to prove Kearns's point. In that time, Carolina did not miss a single field-goal attempt. Cool was indeed the word for them. On offense, they started in low gear, imperceptibly speeding up their movements until a sudden spurt or quick pass would free a man clearly for a shot. If that man did not feel he was sufficiently clear—and Carolina's standards were high-he did not take the shot but instead put the ball back into play. They had to miss, of course, but at half time their shooting percentage was 64.7 to Kansas' 27.3. Len Rosenbluth, their great forward, missed only twice and was high man with 14 points. Kearns was two for two—but his ball control was what really rated 100%. The score? North Carolina 29, Kansas 22.
The second half was a repeat performance of the first, with the exception that Kansas' percentage of accuracy went up a few points, Carolina's went down a few points, and Rosenbluth, who had been tossing up the loveliest, softest baskets imaginable, fouled out. The game thus ended up a 46-46 tie (the first in the history of the finals of this national championship tournament), and the team which played through three taut overtime periods only the night before was faced with the same prospect again—and without the services of their best shot.
In the first five-minute period only two points were made by each team, and none at all in the second. In the third the score was tied twice until, with six seconds remaining and Kansas ahead 53-52, the electric ending this marvelous game deserved was set up when Carolina's Joe Quigg was fouled. Quigg, displaying the kind of cool approach that Tommy Kearns had so well predicted, sank both shots for a 54-53 victory. Through it all, Carolina had reacted to Chamberlain with great respect, but without paralyzing fear.
It is impossible to give too much credit to Coach Frank McGuire and his crew of Tar Heels. After an exhausting previous evening, under the acute pressure not only of a national championship match but their own record-breaking 31-game winning streak, and facing the greatest threat to peace of mind on a basketball court today-Wilt Chamberlain—they kept their poise, played their game and won an upset victory that few fans or experts thought they could swing.