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Wilt Chamberlain Really Was Better Than Michael Jordan!

Who was the NBA's best--and why?


I’ve made numerous comments recently concerning who the greatest NBA player of all time was, and I’ve always maintained it was Wilt Chamberlain. It seemed fitting that I bring the discussion to my own hubs and state my case here. Most basketball fans claim the argument is between Wilt and Michael Jordan—two players of undeniable ability. I will make my case for Wilt over Jordan, once and for all.

First and foremost, I am not claiming Wilt would score 50 points per game or get 100 in a modern NBA game (although Kobe Bryant’s flirtation with big numbers suggest that Wilt could get 100 if he were around today, and I believe Chamberlain would lead the NBA in rebounding during any era); I am simply stating that Wilt Chamberlain would be the best player in the NBA, regardless of the era he competed in. Pick a decade and Chamberlain would rule it.

A typical argument against Chamberlain’s dominance of the NBA concerns size—he was so much bigger than his opponents it wasn’t fair. This would imply that Shawn Bradley, Manute Bol, and Gheorghe Muresan should have dominated the modern NBA. They were certainly much taller than other players. If the argument isn’t about size, if Wilt was simply more physically imposing than other players, why didn’t Tito Horford take over the NBA in the ‘80s? That guy was a monster and virtually no one in the league at the time was as powerful, but Horford’s 93 career points and 84 rebounds suggest there was more to Wilt’s accomplishments than can be accounted for by size alone. (Looking at pictures of Chamberlain as a young man, his physique reminds one more of David Robinson than Shaquille O’Neal, so it wasn’t bulk that gave him an edge.) If we examine this from MJ’s perspective, few would argue that Jordan was more athletically gifted than his opponents, but this rationale is never mentioned to discount his greatness. Why then do Chamberlain’s physical gifts count against him? Beats me, so let’s ignore the “Wilt was just bigger” arguments and look at other issues.


The Evidence

 

First, we will examine Wilt as a scorer.  Chamberlain scored 31,419 points over the course of 1,045 games during 14 NBA seasons for an average of 30.07 points per game.  While this was an NBA record for points at the time, he has since been surpassed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone and Michael Jordan.  Of the three, only Jordan has a higher per game average at 30.12.  All three players that passed Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list played more games in their career.

It’s been said that Chamberlain was a selfish player, but his offensive production is almost identical to Michael Jordan’s throughout the course of their career.  Both led the league in scoring many times, but Chamberlain was viewed as selfish while Jordan was not.  Does anyone believe Michael Jordan didn’t want to lead the NBA in scoring?  Would Jordan have been willing to chop ten or more points off his scoring average to defer to his teammates, as Chamberlain did later in his career?  Their statistical similarities on offense should make the notion of Chamberlain’s selfishness a moot point.  It neither defines nor diminishes his accomplishments when compared with Michael Jordan’s.

Wilt was the only center to ever lead the NBA in assists, and his career assists per game average was 4.4—only 0.9 assists per game less than Michael Jordan’s career average.  This statistic is more remarkable if we remember Chamberlain never brought the ball upcourt.  For Wilt to register an assist required someone to throw him the ball first, or for him to get the rebound.  He never initiated the offense.  Conversely, Michael Jordan never played with a pure point guard.  Jordan and Scottie Pippen shared ball-handling duties with John Paxson, Ron Harper, Craig Hodges, B.J. Armstrong etc.  In this circumstance, Jordan frequently brought the ball upcourt himself, leaving open the option of taking a quick shot.  Considering Jordan’s domination of the ball from the guard position, Wilt’s assists per game compared with MJ’s should raise more questions about Jordan’s unselfishness than Chamberlain’s.

Next, let’s examine Wilt the rebounder.  In this department, Chamberlain had no equal except Bill Russell, exemplified by his 23,924 rebounds and 22.9 rebounds per game average.  It has been suggested that fewer rebounds are available in the modern NBA, but Chamberlain’s per game career average is more than twice as high as most of the league’s modern centers.  Cut his rebounds in half and his 11.45 rebounds per game over a career exceeds the averages for Hakeem Olajuwon (11.1), Shaquille O’Neal (11.2), Patrick Ewing (9.8), Robert Parrish (9.1), David Robinson (10.6), Bill Laimbeer (9.7), Dikembe Mutombo (10.3), Kevin Garnett (11.0), Karl Malone (10.1) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (11.2).  Half his average places him statistically near Moses Malone (12.2), Tim Duncan (11.7), and Charles Barkley (11.7), to name a few with higher numbers.   Only Dennis Rodman (13.1) had over one rebound per game more than half Wilt’s total.  This should dispel the argument that there were fewer rebounds to be had in Jordan’s NBA, because the difference was never 50%.  Subtract half of Chamberlain’s rebounds and he still grabbed more each game than modern NBA centers.  By discussing Chamberlain’s rebounding, we are no longer just comparing him to Michael Jordan, but to every center in the history of the NBA.

Wilt's resume

 

What are some other relevant numbers in Chamberlain’s resume?  He played 48.5 minutes per game during the 1962 season, sitting out only 8 minutes of one game when he was ejected.  (Overtime periods account for averaging in excess of an entire 48 game.)  Wilt averaged 43.2 minutes in his final season as a pro, and was on the court an amazing 45.8 minutes per game for his entire career.  Much has been made of Jordan’s participation in playoff games while suffering from the flu.  My friends, Chamberlain played the entire 1972 playoffs with a broken bone in his hand, and he still was voted MVP! 

Chamberlain never fouled out of a basketball game in his career.  It has been suggested that Wilt quit playing defense when he got into foul trouble, but there is no way to substantiate such a claim.  I will assert that it is more difficult for a center to play with fouls than a guard—a center protects the basket from drives and post-up moves, blocks shots and rebounds.  It is more physical inside than on the perimeter, and Wilt was always in the game battling. 

Blocked shots were never tabulated as an official statistic until Chamberlain left the NBA, so there is no official evidence of Wilt’s dominance in this area.  Former NBA coaches and officials claimed Chamberlain likely averaged six blocks per game throughout his career, which would be enough to shatter the current record. 

Jordan fans point to nine selections to the NBA All-Defensive team as a gauge of his superiority on defense, but two issues cloud this.  The introduction of the All-Defensive team was in 1969, after Wilt had already played 10 years in the league.  Jordan also played with teammates who were multiple first and second team selections.  Jordan might conceivably have been only the third best defender on his team, behind Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman.  He got a lot of steals and blocked shots for a guard, but who was doing the grunt work of shutting down the other team’s best shooter, MJ or Pippen (or even Rodman)?  I’m not disputing Jordan’s defensive ability—I’m only saying traditional indicators don’t tell the whole story.     

If winning championships is the sign of greatness, the greatest player in the modern era must have been Robert Horry.  Horry won two titles with Houston, three with the Lakers and two with San Antonio.  This Fresh Prince lookalike has one more title than Jordan and the amazing thing is, Horry never played on a team with MJ!  The idea that Horry is better than Jordan is preposterous, of course. While Jordan’s six NBA titles are hardly meaningless, there is more to greatness than the number of rings on your fingers.

For example, Wilt’s two titles equals or surpasses the championships won by outstanding players such as Hakeem Olajuwon, Bill Walton, David Robinson, Isiah Thomas, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, Patrick Ewing, Dave Cowens, Bob Lanier, Artis Gilmore, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld, Rick Barry, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Karl Malone, and John Stockton.  For the sake of historical perspective I’ve not included any current NBA player on this list, allowing for the opportunity to surpass Wilt’s two titles if anyone can.  Chamberlain’s team also beat Bill Russell’s Celtics once, and that’s more than anyone else beat them.

Wilt’s 1967 title team had a record of 68-14, unmatched in the history of the league until his 1972 title team bested it with a record of 69-13 while winning 33 games in a row (a feat unequaled in North American professional team sports).  Jordan’s Bulls posted a 72-10 record one season, but expansion watered down the NBA to the extent that it could not be considered a bigger accomplishment.  Why not, you ask? 

It’s been said that Jordan played in an era of better competition, but of the NBA’s Top 50 players, Wilt played against more of them than Jordan.  The Top 50 players who played part or all of their career in Chamberlain’s era are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nate Archibald, Paul Arizin, Rick Barry, Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens, Billy Cunningham, Dave DeBusschere, Walt Frazier, Hal Greer, John Havlicek, Elvin Hayes, Sam Jones, Jerry Lucas, Pete Maravich, Earl Monroe, Bob Pettit, Willis Reed, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Bill Sharman, Nate Thurmond, Wes Unseld, Jerry West, and Lenny Wilkens.  That’s 27 players.  Jordan and Pippen joined 20 others in the Top 50 from his era.  It is usually believed that the smaller NBA of Wilt’s time meant the league was weaker, but there was more talent on each team than in Jordan’s day.  Jordan never played against more than two NBA top 50 players in an NBA Finals and in 1996, the Sonics had no players make the NBA’s Top 50 list.  Chamberlain played against five at once while facing the New York Knicks in 1972 and 1973.  The caliber of team Chamberlain faced in the playoffs was stronger and deeper than those Jordan encountered.  Expansion didn’t strengthen the talent of each NBA team, it diluted it.  Fewer teams in Wilt’s day never meant weaker teams.

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My intention was never to dispute Michael Jordan’s greatness.  He was a fabulous player, and I tremendously enjoyed watching him play basketball. He is likely the second-best basketball player ever.  However, IN MY OPINION—Wilt was better. 

 

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Comments

inefekt on May 31, 2014:

The pace of the game, which is well quantified on the basketballreference website, was MUCH higher in Wilt's day than it was in Jordan's. Take both Wilt's and MJ's most productive seasons in terms of scoring - 61/62 for Wilt when he dropped 50 per game and 86/87 for MJ when he dropped 37 per game. Wilt's Warriors team had a pace rating of 131.1 compared to the Bulls rating of 95.8. That's a whopping 36.8% difference. If we use that number to normalize the playing field then Wilt's scoring average drops to 36.8ppg if he were playing in 86/87, or conversely MJ's goes up to 50.8ppg if he were strutting his stuff in 61/62.

Julio E Olmo Sr from Florida, USA on May 23, 2014:

Is just that time generation gap argument we grew up watching Michael Jordan, Bird, Magic etc...but it's awesome just reading about Wilt Chamberlain averaging 50 points per game and scoring 100 in one...whew!!!

Richard on October 21, 2013:

One other thing as we know basketball is a team sport. How interesting when Wilt is finally on a great team not only does he win a championship, but he does so setting the NBA record for most consecutive wins with 33 straight wins. Not even the STACKED Miami Heat team has done this yet though they came CLOSE last season!!

Richard on October 21, 2013:

I loved reading the comments and would like to add about the passing debate that Wilt led the league in passing in 67-68 with a league high 702 assists which means he ONCE LED THE LEAGUE IN ASSISTS!!!

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on October 05, 2012:

Wilt_Casanova, thanks for stopping by. I have noticed that this argument takes place on several hubs, and I have refrained from joining in them because I would rather contribute to the dialogue on my own page. I'm not sure if I've seen you on the other sites, but I have always appreciated your willingness to offer your insights here. Thanks again, my friend.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on October 05, 2012:

Eric, Wilt_Casanova said it all. Yes, Wilt was a lousy free throw shooter. He was also a better basketball player than Michael Jordan. As W_C notes, MJ's game against the Blazers was an aberration; even Jordan shrugged his shoulders during the game as if he couldn't believe it himself. That one game has been often used to suggest that Jordan was a good three point shooter when, in fact, he was not. So, to repeat myself, it is extremely possible to be a bad free throw shooter and still be a better player than MJ.

blazedb on October 04, 2012:

Hi,

a guy who averages 22+ rebounds per game and had a 50+ point season.. there's just not much to say after that. oh wait, there is.. he has so many other stats to mention.

I have a different question. Has there been any other athlete to so completely dominate their sport?

Wilt_Casanova on September 17, 2012:

Eric,

Nobody's denying that Wilt was a bad free throw shooter; he certainly had a weakness -- but so did M.J.

Do you even know that M.J. was a lousy 3-pt shooter? In his first four seasons, his 3-pt field goal shooting was under 20% in each season. Had the NBA not moved in the 3-pt line in 1994-97, (which btw, was the league's attempt to HELP players score more, and a rule from which Jordan greatly benefitted) Jordan would have shot around 29% from the 3-pt line for his career -- that is terrible. His career average of 33% is nothing to brag about either, as there were many perimeter shooters throughout league history who shot much better than that.

And don't talk to me about Jordan's seven 3-pters against the Blazers, as I could talk about Wilt making 28 of 32 free throws in his 100 point game.

Eric on September 17, 2012:

Dude, do u even know that Wilt was one of the worst FT shooters ever???? He does not belong in the top 5, let alone be compared to Mike. People like u is the reaon I never tried crack.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on August 24, 2012:

djwc6, thanks for your comments. I confess that it seems amazing to me that some who have commented here are so certain their opinions are indisputable, including many who never saw Wilt (or even Bird or Magic) play a game. I also must admit that in their certainty, several folks have been downright rude in presenting their arguments. Wilt's dominance is easy to defend, however, and I have so far not needed to respond in kind. With the help of folks like you and a few others here who have taken the time to point out the fallacy in some arguments presented in Jordan's defense, it has been an enjoyable debate over time. I agree with you-- folks like Willis Reed, Walter Dukes and others were not measured as players are today, and the league is not as significantly taller as some are led to believe. This argument is also based on the idea that Wilt was good only because he was tall, which is simply not the case. He had his hands full playing against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because Jabbar was ten years younger, but still did fine in contests between the Lakers and the Bucks. If both players were the same age, I would suspect that a young Lew Alcindor would have been the one with all he could handle.

I have sometimes wondered to myself if the second greatest player of all time might have been Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and not Jordan (as the title of this article would suggest I believe). Kareem had some brilliant years in his career, and probably has not been given his due.

I might have to pursue this angle someday....

Anyway, thanks again for your comments. They are greatly appreciated.

Mike

djwc6 on August 22, 2012:

I don't know what I admire most,your writing or your patience with young nba fans many of whom where not even born when magic and larry entered the league.Someone can point out the fact that shaq "only" measured 6'11.75" in his bare feet but since players are now measured with their shoes on there is a misconception that todays players are taller.If Swede Halbrook,Red Kerr and Dolph Schayes where listed with todays shoes on they would probably list as 7'5",6'11"and 6'9",thats an imposing front line.If walter bell and Willis Reed where listed as today they would be 7'1" and 7'.0. Walter Dukes 7'1" or 7'2",Ray Felix 7"1''.Of course Wilt himself would measure 7'3" and come into a league that allows offensive players,like shaq,to bump there way closer to the basket,where defenders have to leave the paint after 3 seconds and with a landing zone for dunkers where no one could take a charge.Wilt would come into a league where none of its superstars can average 40 mpg.No Wilt would probably not average fifty,at least not every season.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on July 26, 2012:

I agree completely. I believe the only thing that would limit Wilt's minutes in today's NBA would be the notion that Wilt probably wouldn't play in blowouts, which would be the only logical scenario I can think of. With more attention paid to health, nutrition and training than ever before, there is no reason to believe Wilt would not benefit from these advances and actually be more durable, if such a thing is possible.

Another thought: If you put Wilt into today's NBA as it is now, there is such a shortage of quality big men that it would in fact be foolish to take him out unless he wasn't needed. Who would you send in? If Tyson Chandler can be the defensive player of the year and an Olympian, who is out there that could steal minutes from Wilt? Perhaps that isn't a valid argument because it asserts that current NBA big men are awful more than it speaks to Chamberlain's abilities.

Thanks for stopping by, always a pleasure to hear from you!

Mike

Wilt_Casanova on July 26, 2012:

Mike,

Quick question. Of course, you and I both know that Wilt had the durability and stamina to play an exorbitant amount of minutes, but it has been said by some critics that coaches today wouldn't allow Wilt to play as many minutes as he did then. Do you necessarily believe this?

Personally, I think it would be foolish for any coach, with knowledge of Wilt's ability to play at an extremely high level, while playing so many minutes, to NOT entertain the thought of playing him a ton of minutes.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on July 26, 2012:

Michael, thanks for your comments. To answer your last question first, he didn't beat Boston the next year because several key players on the 76ers were injured in 68, including Luke Jackson and Billy Cunningham. They had the better team but injuries took them down.

Wilt didn't just play against Russell and Thurmond. He was also playing against Willis Reed, Dave Cowens, Walt Bellamy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, Bob Lanier, Jerry Lucas, etc. This was toward the end of his career with the Lakers, and he still won a title and played in the finals multiple times. And, turning the defensive spotlight on Jordan, well--guys like Jeff Hornacek, John Stockton, John Starks or Reggie Miller weren't going to stop him. Except for Stockton and Gary Payton, there were very few outstanding guards in Jordan's era. When Jordan played against great guards earlier in his career, he didn't win.

And, it would probably be easier to play big minutes in today's NBA than in Wilt's era because conditions are better--training and medical treatment is superior, travel is usually by private jet, etc. Wilt was a tremendous athlete, and would be very capable of big minutes.

Thanks for your comments, I do appreciate them even if I stick by my assertion that Wilt was the best to ever play the game.

Mike

Michael Jeffrey on July 23, 2012:

Lol Wilt was a track man and played 45.8mpg for his career but no matter how fit you are you're not going to play 42+ mpg and not over 44mpg in any single season in Today's NBA. When Making an argument for The Greatest player of All time- Michael Jordan.... There's No excuse you can say back. There are so many for Wilt and every other player. Wilt in the 60's could finger roll it over people's heads because EVERY SHOT WAS BADLY CONTESTED UNLESS IT'S WILT, RUSSELL OR THURMOND! So as for Yao Ming dominating and all that nonsense, he has heavier and better defenders to play against. So much more on why Wilt is not Better than many players!! He wasn't a Winner, he beat Russ Once Why didn't he do it again ? He had the same team!!

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on April 14, 2012:

Dan, your comments left me speechless. The opinion that Wilt wasn't athletic or skilled is shared by virtually no one. Wilt was a world class athlete and a tremendously skilled basketball player. Comparing him to Darko Milicic would be like comparing Michael Jordan to Harold Miner.

As has been mentioned earlier in the comments, Wilt played against Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nate Thurmond, Walt Bellamy, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens, Bob Lanier and Jerry Lucas, just to name a few. He held his own against anyone.

Your comments are appreciated, but I agree with none of them. Thanks, though.

Mike

Dan on February 25, 2012:

Your argument for why him being much taller than most of the league is irrelevant doesn't really fly. You mention tall guys that played later and question why they didn't dominate, but the answer is simple. They weren't towering over the rest of the league like wilt did, they were playing against guys every night that were just as tall and just as athletic. Wilt was seven feet tall when being seven feet tall was a freakish thing. Half the league is guys 6'10" and over now. And most of the guards in the modern game are the height forwards used to be in his days.

He also had to be fed the ball while standing two feet from the rim to score. A lot of rules have changed since wilt's days. Because they realized what in idiotic advantage it gave somebody by just being tall under the old rules. He wasn't extraordinarily athletic or skilled he was just tall, and the rules of the time played to that strength. He would be about as dominant as Darko Milicic in today's NBA.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on February 16, 2012:

Zach, thanks for reading. I've said this before, but Wilt's accomplishments are so staggering they become abstract. We forget he had to gather all those rebounds, score all those baskets over countless defenders, make the passes that resulted in the assist, block 6-8 shots per game, etc. What he did can only be marveled at--it is absolutely amazing.

The 50 year anniversary of Wilt's 100 point game is coming up next month, by the way. I think every NBA player in a game that day should wear number 13 on their jersey in honor of Wilt.

Thanks again for reading.

Mike

zach g on February 16, 2012:

I must correct my mistake at the end of my post. He scored 100 points in a game WITHOU

T the three point line existing

zach g on February 16, 2012:

Mike, i am a huge mj fan and would argue he is the best in a mimute but reading this hub has actually changed my mind tremendously. I am only 17 and i am fascinated with wilts athletic capabilities. And people say wilt was too big for his era which is why he dominated? 7'1 and 275 is still a little bigger than many centers in the league today. Plus who else could 100 points in one game with the 3 point line existing? Clase closed

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on February 15, 2012:

noahawk, you're right. Wilt dominated from the beginning, and never really let up until he retired. He was so dominant, no one can really compare. Russell was certainly a great player and I will give him his due, but Wilt was in my mind the greatest--ever.

Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your comments a great deal.

Mike

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on February 15, 2012:

Dantheman, I will check out the link you have suggested. Thanks for stopping by.

Mike

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on February 15, 2012:

Wilt_Casanova, thanks for coming back. I have not seen the web site you refer to, but I will certainly take a look. It sounds quite interesting.

It is clear who I believe is the greatest of all time, and I am also uncertain who I would pick as next. I might actually opt for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, although I am also of a mind that Russell's rebounding and defensive prowess, his leadership and his rings certainly give him some consideration. I agree with your most recent comment completely, however--if the number of rings told the whole story, we would be talking about Russell and Robert Horry--or, perhaps, Russell and John Havlicek. Hondo has a ton of rings also, and scored a ton of points besides. It could reasonably be argued that Boston might never have beaten Wilt after the early 60's of Havlicek wasn't on all those teams. Anyway....

A final note: somewhere lost in the comments above was the statement that Wilt would have had trouble with Manute Bol or Mark Eaton because of their size, so don't be surprised if someone doesn't come along someday and insist that Luc Longley was indeed better than Patrick Ewing.

Thanks again for your comments, and feel free to stop by any time. I always appreciate your insights.

Mike

Wilt_Casanova on February 15, 2012:

I still have Wilt # 1 on my list. I might respect an argument for Russell being the best, but one would have to come with a much better argument than him having 11 rings. Winning is a TEAM accomplishment. Yes, I am aware of Russell's impact with the Celtics, but he didn't win those titles alone. I would have to see a very detailed argument in Russell's favor before I even begin to consider him as the best.

If rings are what seperates players, then Derek Fisher is better than John Stockton; Luc Longley is better than Patrick Ewing; Robert Horry is better than Karl Malone.

noahawk on February 14, 2012:

I agree completely!! Although I would say Russell is the greatest of all time for winning 11 titles. Chamberlain was dogged for being selfish and winning only 2 titles. But his numbers are so astonishing that no one comes close. 50 Point Games: Chamberlain 118, Jordan 38.

Chamberlain's rookie season of 38 PPG and 27 RBG is so far off the charts that no one is even in the same building. And that was as a rookie!!

Dantheman9758 on February 12, 2012:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4WZXiaDzyc

A must-watch Wilt Chamberlain video for anyone on the fence about him - rare footage and commentary

Wilt_Casanova on February 11, 2012:

I know I've already commented on this forum, but I just don't understand how Jordan, a player of such limited ability, can be universally hailed as the "greatest player in NBA history." He didn't have the most impact in his team's W-L column like Wilt, Russell, Oscar, Bird, or Magic Johnson, and he certainly wasn't the most dominating player, especially compared to Wilt. He was an excellent, complete player, and his clutch ability was legendary.

He was a great player (he's in my top 5), but the "greatest player" he is not.

Mike, have you visited Air Judden's webpage? In addition to the arguments you make against MJ (which were very good), he also makes convincing, powerful arguments as to why Jordan was supremely overrated.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on February 11, 2012:

I will check it out, PrometheusKid. Thanks for stopping by.

Mike

PrometheusKid from Heaven on February 11, 2012:

Great hub.

Watch this video, I actually think it exposes MJ as the most overrated player ever to play basketball.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=53dn_D6FWBk&fea...

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on February 10, 2012:

Jeremiah, thanks for your comments. Everyone is entitled to their opinions on who the greatest might be, and everyone is equally entitled to enjoy the players they like to watch. I consider Chamberlain the best, but I also loved watching Jordan, Bird, Kareem and the others you mention. I am about to watch Kobe Bryant play against the Knicks--not my favorite player, but fun to watch.

Wilt was truly amazing, and I hope you get a chance to go ESPN Classic or even YouTube and watch him play. You will enjoy it.

Thanks for stopping by.

Mike

Jeremiah on January 15, 2012:

HoW can I say that I agree w you but I don't? 2 diff time periods and Wilt might ultimately be better Jordan was always and will always be the best in my book. Plus I was born and raised in Chicago if that helps. I am younger as well so I dont know to many of the older players. I barely got a chance to see MJ play. Much less Johnson, Larry Bird and Kareem and The Big Dipper the Great Wilt Chamberlain. Curtis agrees w you and he's watched the Nba before I was even thought of so I do agree Wilt is better but Jordan to me will always be the best and my fave for the above reasons. Maybe ill catch some games on espn classics and they'll change my mind. 100 point game tho! That is truly amazing! 55 rebounds! and a 5,000 assists. a career total of 31k points! Man either way they are both up there.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on December 07, 2011:

It has been awhile since I've stopped by to read the comments on this page and offer my opinion. In my absence, Freddie Freeloader has defended Wilt's status as greatest of all time with logic and eloquence. I appreciate the views of everyone who took the time to comment here, and look forward to a continuation of this most enjoyable discussion.

Mike

Curtis J. Phillips on December 05, 2011:

Have watched the NBA since 1967 and have met in person nearly all of the greatest players. As a journalist and historian of the game will have to concede that Wilt was indeed the greatest ever and would dominate the game today.

freddie freeloader on September 05, 2011:

Interesting that nobody catches the huge flaw in their own argument about Jordan and the "modern" NBA.

If the 90s-00s were so much harder than the 60s, just how did Jordan score so many points? How did Kobe Bryant just pass the 60s greatest guard (Oscar) on the all-time scoring list?

There is no logic in calling Jordan's era harder when not only did Jordan score more than any 60s era player....... HE DIDN'T EVEN LEAD SCORING IN HIS OWN ERA!!!

Karl Malone outscored Jordan by 5,000 points in that so-called harder era.

Another fact: NBA scoring leaders, year in, year out, average 28-35 points per game.

1962

1. Wilt Chamberlain*-PHW 50.4

2. Walt Bellamy*-CHP 31.6

3. Bob Pettit*-STL 31.1

4. Jerry West*-LAL 30.8

5. Oscar Robertson*-CIN 30.8

Bellamy, Pettit, West, Robertson - all scored at the same pace as the league leaders every year since 1955.

Check out 1992 for comparison

1. Michael Jordan*-CHI 30.1

2. Karl Malone*-UTA 28.0

3. Chris Mullin*-GSW 25.6

4. Clyde Drexler*-POR 25.0

5. Patrick Ewing*-NYK 24.0

Same level of scoring as 1962.

2002

1. Allen Iverson-PHI 31.4

2. Shaquille O'Neal-LAL 27.2

3. Paul Pierce-BOS 26.1

4. Tracy McGrady-ORL 25.6

5. Tim Duncan-SAS 25.5

Same level of scoring as 1962.

Pick ANY year, that elite level of scoring is the same 28-35 points per game.... from George Gervin to Bernard King to Kevin Durant.

Chamberlain not only scored more points than anyone in history that 1962 season, the margin of difference between his numbers and everyone else's is astronomical.

Naturally the game has changed over the years - fads come and go in basketball just like they do in everything else.

The fact remains.

The players in Chamberlain's era put up the same numbers as players from every other era, which makes arguments about era inane.

John on August 01, 2011:

Curtis, I respect your opinion on this. Obviously you have a lot of experience and credentials, and I would not necessarily disagree with you that Wilt may have been the most dominant player in NBA history... at times (i.e. regular season). It is obvious that he was extremely dominant during the regular season. The games in which he dominated, he did in more impressive fashion than possibly anyone. That's obvious with games such as his 100 point game, or his 55 rebound game... However, I do not believe this makes him the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. If he would have done those same things in the playoffs, then I would completely agree with you that he was the greatest ever. However, he didn't do that in the playoffs. His numbers dropped off significantly in the playoffs, when his team needed him the most.

Like I said, I respect your opinion, but it's apparent that we have different ideas about what makes someone the greatest player ever. I'll agree that Wilt was the most dominant regular season player ever. But I don't believe that makes him the greatest ever.

Curtis J. Phillips on July 31, 2011:

As a baskeball journalist of 35 years and a basketball fan of 47 years I have met or seen play all of the greatest players in the modern era of the game. Without a doubt Wilt was the most dominant player in NBA history. Forget the facts and stats. Watch him play. Nohing comes close. End of story

John on July 28, 2011:

What makes you think that Jordan played in the league during one of its weakest points ever? The top 10 teams in NBA history were also named at the same time that the 50 greatest players were named. Of those top 10 teams, Jordan and Wilt were each on two teams. Of the remaining 6 teams, Wilt played against 2 and Jordan played against 3.

Also, Jordan had a scoring record that not even Wilt could touch, and it was against one of the top 10 teams in NBA history. I'm sure you know what I'm talking about... 63 points in a playoff game against the 1985-86 Celtics. And that was a Celtics team with 4 of the 50 greatest players ever, and 5 hall of famers. Not even Wilt - the most dominant scorer ever (in the regular season) - could touch that record. The closest he got in the playoffs was 56 against a team with only 1 of the 50 greatest.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on July 19, 2011:

Thanks, Luke. I'm sure your speech turned out great. Take care.

Mike

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on July 19, 2011:

John, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your insights. I would suggest they widened the lane to keep Wilt from dominating, while MJ was the beneficiary of rules changes made primarily to help his game. Wilt still continued to play well with the wider lane, and if he didn't score as many points as he did, I still don't believe that diminishes from his greatness. I am still convinced he would be the best basketball player in any area.

Regarding assists, Jordan never played with a pure point guard who directed the offense, and he often brought the ball up instead of deferring to guys like Steve Kerr, B.J. Armstrong or Craig Hodges. He typically was paired with a shooting guard, not a point guard. I would also assert that he brought the ball up whenever he wanted to.

In Wilt's days, the ball didn't necessarily go into the pivot more--I think that, just like in today's game, the ball went through a teams best players. That would certainly have been Wilt, but I don't believe it can be viewed as a fundamental difference in the way the game was played. I also don't believe the three-point line changed rebounding. There might be more long rebounds now, but the floor is also spread more. Wilt had to battle numerous opponents to get the ball. It wasn't just Wilt camping out in the lane, it was Wilt and everyone trying to keep him off the boards.

Concerning your final comment about the 50 greatest players, I will say you're correct--Jordan didn't play with a lot of them, but the point still stands. The league was at one of its weakest points ever, and you didn't need a lot of the greatest players on your side to dominate because there was no one on the other side, either. Rarely did MJ play against more than two of the 50 greatest in an NBA finals--when Wilt played against ONLY two, he won handily.

Despite the fact we disagree, I appreciate the unique perspective you brought to this discussion. Thank you very much.

Mike

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on July 19, 2011:

Wilt_Cassanova, thanks again for your insights. I agree that Wilt would have been seen differently if he played in the 90s, and frankly, MJ might have been viewed differently, also. If Oscar Robertson and Jerry West played in Jordan's time and received the benefits of heightened television exposure, they might challenge MJ's claim to the best ever.

I would also suggest that at 6'6", if MJ played in Wilt's day he might have played forward. He would have to deal with physical players on the inside as well. Would he be the greatest if he spent his time boxing out Elgin Baylor or keeping Rick Barry from shooting? Perhaps, but perhaps not.... Everyone assumes Wilt would have his hands full in MJ's era, but Jordan might not find playing in Wilt's time a day at the beach. Thanks again.

Mike

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on July 19, 2011:

Daryl2007, thanks for your comments. I would have to say Jordan had more charisma than Wilt, or as another reader put it, Jordan had a "better smile".

In Wilt's day, there was perhaps one NBA game a week on national television, and ESPN was still years away. The 100 point game was not even televised. Jordan did indeed bring a large following to the NBA, but if the situation was reversed--if Jordan played in the 60s and Wilt in the 90s, I am convinced Wilt would have made the same impact on the game, if not an even greater one.

so the opportunity to impact the game from a media standpoint was not there.

While we disagree on this point, I am appreciative of your comments and insights. Take care.

Mike

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on July 19, 2011:

Wilt_Cassanova, thanks again for your insights. In regards to your response to Juice awhile back, I agree completely. I think Chamberlain would have done just fine against any of the centers he mentioned, including Shaq. Take care, my friend.

Mike

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on July 19, 2011:

Juice, thanks for your comments. I do not diminish the greatness of players like Shaquille O'Neal and David Robinson, but I am convinced Wilt would have held his own against any of them. The game is far less physical than it was in Wilt's time, and physical contact was the main weapon in the toolbox of most of Wilt's opponents. In his prime, Wilt's combination of strength, agility and intelligence would be difficult for any modern player to match.

Luke on July 09, 2011:

Thanks for this article and the resulting discussions Mike. Has helped me a lot for my speech "Wilt Chamberlain is the best basketball player of all-time: :D

John on June 15, 2011:

Regarding assists, although Jordan was a guard, he rarely brought the ball up the court. When he did play point guard consistently when John Paxson got hurt in 1989, he had 10 out of 11 games with triple doubles.

Obviously, you are correct that Wilt did not bring the ball up the court. However, without a 3-point line, the game revolved around big men (why take long shots when they're worth the same as dunks?). This meant Wilt was likely to touch the ball nearly every time down the court, meaning he is more likely to get assists. Look at Bill Russell's assist average. He averaged 4.3 APG during the regular season compared to Wilt's 4.4 APG. In the playoffs, Russell averaged 4.7 APG compared to Wilt's 4.2 APG. Obviously, it was a completely different game back then that almost completely revolved around getting the center the ball. This makes Wilt's assist average much less impressive (although still impressive).

Regarding rebounds, the lack of a 3-point line made players more likely to take shots closer to the basket, which creates shorter rebounds (i.e. easier for big men that camp next to the basket to get rebounds). I'm not saying Wilt's

Another interesting fact is that once the NBA widened the lane from 12 feet to 16 feet, Wilt did not average 30 or more PPG in a season for the rest of his career.

Also, you mention the fact that Jordan did not play against as many of the 50 greatest players. The reason so many of the 50 greatest came from Wilt's era is because it's much more difficult to name someone as one of the 50 greatest that has ever played when their careers are not complete. Even if you don't agree with this, here's another thought for you. How many of the 50 greatest players did Michael play WITH? How many did Wilt play WITH?

Wilt_Casanova on June 15, 2011:

I think Jordan was the beneficiary of sports media coverage that the likes of Wilt, Russell, Oscar, Baylor, West, etc. did not have. I think these players, in some ways, were just as talented as MJ, if not more.

The league and media bent over backwards to promote Jordan and his talents. Sometimes, I wonder if Jordan would still be considered "the greatest" if he played in the NBA pre-1980.

daryl2007 on June 14, 2011:

I agree with you that Wilt was great....but what makes Jordan the best is not just about the scores and his stats... But he made Basketball the best sport in the World. Try to talk to guys who loves to watch and play hockey and tennis about Basketball? And they would tell you Jordan made them aware that there is Basketball. That is something Wilt did not have... Jordan puts the game above the level of most sports audiences...that's is spectacular achievement...that made him a legend.

Wilt_Casanova on June 05, 2011:

Juice76, I do agree that no one player can make an outright claim to being the "greatest player ever," but I believe there is something to be said about a player who is so great that rules had to be changed to mitigate his dominance. Such was the case with Wilt. Jordan, on the other hand, was the beneficiary of rules which enhanced his abilities and inflated his statistics. For instance, from 1995-97, the league moved in the 3-pt line to help generate more scoring. If you take a look at Jordan's 3-pt shooting in 95, 96, & 97, he posted his best 3-pt shooting percentages of his career. Apart from those seasons, Jordan, for the most part, was a lousy perimeter shooter. Actually, if you discard his 3-pt shooting in those years, Jordan shot 29% from the 3-pt line for his career -- terrible.

If anything, since the days of Wilt and Russell, the rules that have changed have made the game easier . The NBA today is not nearly as physical, and superstars receive more preferential treatment from the officials. I actually read that the league allowed Wilt to receive excessive physical punishment as a means of curtailing his dominance; this nearly forced Wilt into early retirement. In today's game, he would be protected which could help him dominate more.

I honestly don't think Wilt would have a problem in today's league against Shaq. While it is true that Wilt would have his hands full against a physical specimen like Shaq, Shaq would also have a problem with Wilt. Whenever you hear Russell talk about his bouts against Wilt, he always mentioned Wilt's "intelligence" as much as his physical abilities. I think Wilt would outsmart Shaq, and his skill level and athleticism will force Shaq to play at a level to which he was never accustomed to playing. Shaq was not really the type to outsmart an opponent; he mainly just threw his weight around and knocked them back. What would Shaq do when he tries to body Wilt in the paint, and he realizes he can't move him? Shaq was big, but Wilt was pure muscle. What will Shaq do when he goes up for a shot, and Wilt knocks the ball into the cheap seats? What will Shaq do when Wilt hits one fadeaway jumper after another, and there is nothing he can do about it? I think Wilt would enjoy the challenge of facing Shaq, and Wilt would prove to the world that even in Shaq's era, Wilt would still be the biggest fish in the pond.

juice76 from Palatine on June 04, 2011:

Great hub I really enjoyed your opinion on the subject even though I am not a person who believes in the term "Greatest of All-Time". We all forget about the rule changes that have taken place from the time Wilt played unti now. I remember reading an article where Bill Russel said he used to wrestle Wilt under the basket for positioning. If he did that now a days they would call a foul on him. I never was able to see Wilt play other than in old clips on ESPN, youtube, or dvd's but with the rule changes he would have a tough time defending a guy like Shaq, David Robinson, The Dream, or Ewing I am not saying they would dominate him I am just saying they all play the game differently then the way any of the guys he played against played. Let's face it you can't teach a guy to be 7 feet 2 inches tall 350 pounds Shaq was a freak of nature who will give any all time greats fits. Wilt is a great player one of the all-time greats unfortunately for him and Jordan becuase they can not play the great players from all era's in their prime you can not name any one the "Greatest Player" because it is just an opinion to each individual which has no meaning to anyone else.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on June 02, 2011:

Stewart, thanks for your comments. I remember hearing about the pickup game with Wilt, Magic and the others, and I doubt that anyone there that day would question Wilt's defensive prowess. I have said all along that Wilt as a 25 year old would dominate any era in NBA history. No one would be capable of playing him, and he would dominate on both ends of the floor.

It is a shame that statistics for blocked shots were not kept until after Wilt retired, as that would answer a few more questions about his abilities.

Thanks again for stopping by, I appreciate your comments.

Mike

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on June 02, 2011:

Wilt_Cassanova, I apologize for taking so long to see and answer your question, but I would like to offer my opinion.

I do think statistics mattered to Wilt, but to suggest they mattered more than winning is to assume we know what is going through the mind of another man. I agree with your assessment--winning was important, but losing wasn't the end of the world for Wilt. Did that mean he didn't want to win as much as Russell or Jordan? Of course not.

When talking about a player's determination and whether Wilt was "less determined" than Jordan, I think all one needs to is look at Wilt's rebounding totals. It has been reported that Wilt never retrieved less than ten rebounds in a game throughout his entire career. No matter who the opponent was, no matter how young or old Wilt was, Wilt GOT THE BALL. If a player is fatigued, a shooter can settle for jump shots instead of driving and still score his points. A rebounder has to battle for position and get the rebound. It is all effort and, yes--determination. This is as valid a way to define Wilt's determination as any.

I do think Wilt was probably too sensitive to criticism, by the way, but I don't think he changed his game to silence critics.

People have lauded Michael Jordan for his celebrated games with the flu, draping a towel over his head during time-outs to emphasize that he was sick. They forget that Wilt won the 72 title with a broken hand. There were no towels to emphasize the point--Wilt just played, and he played with a determination that few players could match.

Thanks for stopping by and, again, I apologize for the delayed response.

Mike

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on June 02, 2011:

Freddie,

I stand corrected on Van Breda Kopff's coaching career ending with the Lakers. He did indeed coach another year or two as you suggested. I will stick to my guns and claim his impact on any team he coached was negligible, and he was hardly a coach capable of getting the best out of any player on his roster.

I always regretted that Russell retired before Abdul-Jabbar came to the league. It would have been special to see them on the court together, even at Russ' age. Wilt left a year before Bill Walton arrived, and I found myself wishing they could square off also.

Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate your insights a great deal.

Mike

Stewart on June 02, 2011:

Late comment...

Disclaimer: I watched MJ's entire career. I only recall the end of Wilt's, supposedly past his prime.

It may surprise you then that I am awestruck by Wilt. I have been reading the comments, and I can't believe commentators who would question his defensive prowess. Even in his "past prime" years the man was incredible. I would agree that 6-8 blocks were normal for Wilt, and may even be an understatement, it certainly seemed that way watching him on TV. I once remembe a playoff game where Wilt blocked one of Kareem's "sky hooks"(!!!)

To give you an idea of the man's athleticism, and his defensive prowess, I recall a story of an informal pickup game played with Magic Johnson and several other NBA players with Wilt, then in his 40s. Early in the game there was a ticky-tack foul called on Wilt, and Wilt responded with: "OK, that means from here on out, no one's gonna score". Wilt then proceeded to dominate the area around the basket, blocking shot after shot after shot, to demonstrate his point. This was by a man *in his 40s* playing against current professionals *in their 20s*. Imagine him in his prime!

Lastly, about the "he didn't win enough championships" accusation: I'm sorry, but in all team sports measuring athletes by the number of championships they won is a highly questionable standard. Some of the greatest players never get the chance, while some greats "only" win one. Wilt won two, and two championships are generally considered good enough in most other sports. Bill Russell, who is most often portrayed as Wilt's nemesis and the victories by his Celtics are most often cited as why Chamberlain wasn't truly "great", differs with this opinion. Russell unequivocably calls Chamberlain "the best center who ever played" and moreover adds "People say I beat Wilt. But I never beat Wilt. My team beat his team because we had the better team". Russell also says that Chamberlain was "the most intelligent player he ever faced" and that "unlike some people, who you could figure out, Wilt never played you the same way twice".

Wilt_Casanova on March 31, 2011:

Good day, Mike. Just wanted to pick your brain with some questions, and give my personal views. When comparing Wilt vs. MJ, many people like to emphasize Jordan's "competitive drive" and "will to win." Personally, I will admit that Jordan probably had Wilt beaten in the area of fiery competitiveness. However, do you believe that argument is valid enough to give Jordan the nod over Wilt?

I personally have Wilt as # 1 on my all-time list, but in review of his career, I think he had more of a mentality that he wanted to win, but if he didn't, he was content with giving it his best. I gathered this after reading a couple of his books. For some people, this is enough to say, "see, he didn't have the drive of a Russell or Jordan; therefore, he can't be 'better' than them."

One of the personal knocks I have against Wilt is that I think he was too sensitive to criticism. Whenever the media said he couldn't do something, or questioned his all-around game, he set out to prove them wrong. Was it to the detriment of the team? I am not sure. He led the league in assists in 1968, but some people felt that was more important to him than winning. I am not sure if I agree, but I do know that the year he accomplished this feat, the 76ers finished the regular season with the best record, if I am not mistaken.

Do you believe Wilt was a "selfish" player who placed personal accomplishments ahead of winning? This is the universal knock I hear on Wilt. Your opinions to my questions/comments will be appreciated.

freddie freeloader on March 29, 2011:

Mike I think that's not entirely correct about that chump van breda kopf. He coached the Pistons for a year or two I think, but he definitely coached the Suns, because I remember Bill Russell as an announcer saying dummKopf almost certainly cost Wilt that '69 championship by pulling him out of the game because the Celtics were out of gas. DummKopf was fired by the Suns.

Russell also ruined his friendship with Chamberlain after that game with his snide remarks about the injury (which was in fact a ruined knee that caused Wilt to miss the next season), and he definitely hurt his relationship with the Celtics too, when he retired abruptly without telling Auerbach. I've always thought he retired because he couldn't face the thought of Chamberlain AND Jabbar the next season. Red drafted the great JoJo White, thinking he didn't have to worry about a center.... they were fortunate though to get Dave Cowens, one of the all time best Cs.

Russell was such a great player, I was glad to see him honored by the President recently. If there is anyone who deserves that award as much, it would be Muhammad Ali who stood defiantly before the government and said we got no quarrel with those Viet Cong.

Great athletes, great men, all those guys were.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on February 12, 2011:

Bisonman, you're correct. That is the same game. As the story goes, when Chamberlain said he was ready to go back in, Van Breda Koff reportedly told him, "We don't need you." His coach made the decision to stay with Mel Counts rather than put Wilt back into the game. Would they have won the game with Wilt on the court? We can't know that, but without him, they did lose, and Van Breda Koff never coached in the NBA again.

Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

Mike

bisonman on February 11, 2011:

Mike. This is directed at your comment about Wilt's coach not putting him back into a game 7. If I am thinking of the same game 7, Wilt pulled himself out of the game due to an injury. His team then began making a run and closing the gap on the other team.

Mike Lickteig (author) from Lawrence KS USA on January 10, 2011:

Tommy, thanks for stopping by. You are correct about Wilt and I share your opinion. He was a world-class athlete that could probably dominate any sport he chose to participat