by 362 miles, one Friday
night permanently links this odd couple that never
met in person.
Jim Trelease © 2006
for great astrophysical events to occur—eclipses,
storms, etc.—it is said there must be a grand
alignment of planets or stars. Some take the concept
further and declare that human events are guided by
such heavenly alignments. If that be true, then more
than a few planets had to be aligned for Wilt
Chamberlain and I to be linked kneecap to shoulder
in the Basketball Hall of Fame, as
For that to happen, there had to be these alignments
on the evening of March 2, 1962:
had to be a Friday night and I had to be residing
in a dormitory on the highest point on the campus
of the University of Massachusetts.
first-floor dorm room had to be equipped with steam
pipes that snaked skyward to the fifth-floor.
transistor radio had to be tuned to WCAU-AM
that night and I had to wake at midnight
in time to hear the announcer reciting a synopsis
of the evening's sports news
My girlfriend had to have loaned me her tape recorder
for that semester.
at a dinner party nearly 30 years later, I had to
be seated beside a trustee of the Hershey
(Pennsylvania) Community Archives.
those factors together put me in the Hall of Fame with
Wilt Chamberlain. If any one of those factors had been
missing, my only way into the Hall would be to pay my
and I first "met" back in late November 1956,
a meeting that carried significant hints for our future
together, or at least my future. I was fifteen
years old and had moved with my family that summer
from New Jersey to Springfield, Massachusetts when
my father was transferred with his job. When he told
my brothers and me about the prospective move, we looked
up Springfield in the encyclopedia and discovered it
was the birthplace of basketball. Dr. James
invented the game at Springfield College back
in 1891. My brothers and I immediately okayed the move,
figuring it would be a big sports town.
were right, although the city's romance with sports
would wane considerably in the years that followed.
The first thing we did in Springfield, even before
eating our first breakfast, was to buy a newspaper
and check out the sports section. Little did I realize
that in seven years I'd be working for that newspaper.
I also didn't realize at the time that a small contingent
of coaches and local businessmen were working to build
a hall of fame for basketball that would be born 12
years later, just ten blocks from the house my family
and I were moving into. (It's now proudly in its third
location, and state-of-the-art, photo left.)
As the school year opened, I found myself in a large
urban parochial high school, Cathedral, where I didn't
know a single classmate, a painful contrast with the
small high school I'd left in North Plainfield, New
Jersey, where I knew almost everyone.
anonymity would soon end, thanks to Wilt Chamberlain.
Students in my English class were expected to give
an oral presentation and by the end of November
it was my turn. My family was a long-time subscriber
Saturday Evening Post and a cover story in that
week's issue was entitled, "Can Basketball
Survive Wilt Chamberlain?"
The date was December 1, 1956 and
it offers a striking contrast with the world we
live in today. The seven-foot, one-inch Chamberlain
was about to begin his college basketball career
at the University of Kansas
after a dominating four years at Overbrook
High School in Philadelphia where he became
the most sought-after schoolboy in America. But to
most people in America (including my classmates),
he was unknown. Sports Illustrated was less
than two years old, there was no CNN, ESPN, or SportsCenter,
all-sports-all-the-time back then, talk radio hadn't
been invented and thus the ubiquitous radio sports
call-in shows were still years away. So except to a
small number of die-hard fans and coaches, "Wilt" was
something flowers did when they didn't get enough water.