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Jim & Wilt Chamberlain:
Their unlikely trip together
to basketball's Hall of Fame

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basketball + tapeJim & Wilt — page 3

y the late 1980s I had left the Springfield Daily News where I'd worked as a writer and artist for 20 and now was an education consultant, largely from writing a book called The Read-Aloud Handbook (Penguin) that spent 17 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Now I was speaking to parents and teachers all over America about how to raise readers (which is different from raising reading scores). And one night I was dining at the home of librarian Steven Herb just before speaking in the community of Harrisburg, PA. Steve had invited some local folks to join us for dinner and I ended up sitting beside Paul Serff who was director of the Hershey Amusement Park. During small talk Paul mentioned he was a trustee of the Hershey Community Archives.

I thought, here's a chance to have some fun. "Let's see how well you know your Hershey history, Paul. Name for me the most famous athletic event to occur in Hershey." I figured he'd mention one of the Hershey Bears' AHL hockey games but he quickly responded with Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game. As we ate, I quizzed him on what kind of material they had in their archives from the game. "And you must have the recording of the radio broadcast, right?"

Serff stunned me by saying there was no recording. There was no existing radio record of the game, and the NBA had verified it for them. I could suddenly feel the moldy brown audio tape in my basement coming back to life. "What would you give," I asked him, leaning across his plate, "for a recording of the whole last quarter of that 100-point game?"

His fork stopped midway to his mouth, his eyes widened, and he gasped, "There's a recording?"

"Yup. I made it that night in my dormitory room and I've had it in my basement for years." As we talked about it, I quietly realized that the tape really wasn't "mine." If anyone owned the rights to it, that would be WCAU or Bill Campbell, not me. And surely it wasn't doing anyone any good sitting in my basement. So I said to Serff: "I'll tell you what: You guys can have the tape, free. All I ask is that you make a little cassette copy for me — it's on a reel-to-reel tape now. Just send me a copy when you get a chance and it's all yours."

book cover 1book cover 2

I didn't find out until 30 years later that the original tape that WCAU had replayed early that Saturday morning had been accidentally recorded over in the weeks that followed, thus making my tape the one-and-only. Hershey had kindly sent me a cassette and donated a copy to the NBA, but strangely no one contacted the Basketball Hall of Fame. I had just assumed they had a copy from the NBA. Only when Gary Pomerantz wrote his brilliant profile of Chamberlain's famous night, Wilt, 1962: The Night of 100 Points and the Dawn of a New Era (Crown, 2005) did I discover someone else had been recording the final minutes on a Dictaphone and ran out of tape at the end of the game. And only after Pomerantz's book was published did a local Springfield sportswriter, Garry Brown, explore my connection with the famous game and that prompted the Basketball Hall of Fame's archivist to call and ask for a copy of the game tape.

everal months later, my grandson Tyler was sitting in an audience of school children on a field trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame, listening to one of the guides tell about Wilt's famous 100-point game. He raised his hand to brag about his grandfather's connection to that tape but he went unrecognized. Gee—everyone in the family is trying to get into the act! In fact, for a few weeks after the Pomerantz book debuted I received so much media attention that my brothers started to give me some serious ribbings about it. The best defense is a good offense, I thought, so I concocted the most outlandish media coverage I could think of and emailed it to them: a fake cover story in National Geographic (pictured below), A National Geographic cover story on Wilt and me. That's almost as absurd as a guy who never played high school or college basketball being forever linked in the Basketball Hall of Fame with Wilt Chamberlain.

The entire last quarter of the game can be heard online at: http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/wilt/.

Weekend America (American Public Media) interviewed me on the Chamberlain game-tape shortly after the Pomerantz book debuted; the interview can be heard online at: http://weekendamerica.publicradio.org/
programs/index_20050604.html.

 

    

 

 

 

 

Actually Wilt and I had one other near-brush in those years: We came very close to working for the same ego-maniac. Wilt took the chance and won an NBA title; I walked away and have no regrets today. See page 4.

 

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— Mock National Geographic

 

 

Jim Trelease © 2006

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