York Larese used to tease his children with this trivia question: What two players scored 109 points between them in a regulation NBA game?
The answer: "Wilt and me."
This week marks the 25th anniversary of Larese's feat. On March 2, 1962, the Philadelphia Warriors beat the New York Knicks 169-147 before 4,124 fans at the Hershey Arena in Hershey, Pa. Larese, a guard, scored 9 points for the Warriors; Wilt Chamberlain had the other 100. Since then, the closest anyone has come to Wilt's single-game scoring record was David Thompson, who had 73 points on April 9, 1978.
By most obvious measures, Chamberlain's performance was the ultimate one-man show. He put up 63 shots, hit 36, grabbed 25 rebounds and made 28 out of 32 free throws. But the fact is, Chamberlain's individual feat wouldn't have been possible without the quiet help of some unlikely teammates, who relish the event to this day.
March 2, 1987
One of them is Joe Ruklick, the former Northwestern University All-America who was Chamberlain's backup at center. "We all knew we were witnessing something extraordinary," says Ruklick. "That game was sort of the apotheosis of what we'd seen all year. We knew this was going to happen."
The Knicks didn't want it happening to them. With about five minutes left, and Wilt's total at 89, they began to hold the ball as long as the 24-second clock would allow. When the ball changed hands the Knicks fouled Chamberlain's teammates before he could get the ball. Philadelphia coach Frank McGuire countered by sending in Larese, Ruklick and forward Ted Luckenbill to foul right back to try to regain possession.
With 2:45 to go and the fans chanting, "Give it to Wilt!" the big man hit his 90th point on a foul shot, then hit two more free throws seconds later. Consecutive fadeaway jump shots gave him 96. "They finally realized that nobody was gonna shoot but the Dipper," Luckenbill recalls, "and they put all five men on him." At 1:19, Larese fed Chamberlain a high pass for a dunk, and Wilt had 98.
The crowd was now standing and screaming as Chamberlain intercepted the Knicks' inbounds pass and tried for the 100 mark with a two-handed shot from beyond the foul line. It missed. The next time downcourt, Ruklick fed Wilt in the pivot for a fadeaway, which also missed. Chamberlain got his own rebound and missed again.
This time Luckenbill rebounded. "That's no great shakes. There was nobody guarding me," he says modestly. "The third time, Joe put the ball up there, and Wilt just carried people with him and did his power dunk. That was all she wrote."
"The biggest thing in my life was to see that," Larese recalls. He was thrilled, too, by the response of the small but increasingly enthusiastic crowd. "There was nothing exciting about the Knicks playing the Warriors in Hershey. Chocolate was more exciting." But now the fans were on the floor, mobbing Chamberlain and delaying for five minutes the last 46 seconds of the game.
Twenty-five years later the three subs who helped Wilt score 100 points are out of the public eye. Larese, now 48, is a promotions manager for Puma U.S.A.; Luckenbill, 47, is national sales manager for Tratech, a luxury-van conversion company in Fort Worth; and Ruklick, 48, is an investment counselor in Chicago. But they still share a bond of accomplishment and sincere affection for the Dipper.
"That was probably the highlight of my life, being part of that game," Luckenbill says. "I was a little country bumpkin who Wilt kind of took under his wing, so I was always excited when good things happened to him."
Ruklick echoes those sentiments: "I was the worst guy on the team, the Bob Uecker of the NBA, but Wilt made you feel like part of a family that he was the workhorse of. Wilt was quite a guy."
Their gratitude belies Alex Hannum's old assessment of Wilt that "Nobody loves Goliath."