I am not a LeBron James basher. He is one of the greatest athletes and basketball players of all time. He has made a bad decision or two, but who hasn’t. And, he is a giver – to the tune of well over $40 million. Probably twice that.
As dawn came in the east, sports fans learned that James last night surpassed Wilt Chamberlain on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (31,419). Wilt had been surpassed by four others: Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone, and (No. 1) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron will likely surpass them all.
I watched the first half, in which he was 4-for-4 from behind the 3-point line. And I have seen the highlights – he did it in amazing fashion – needed 39, scored a season-high 44. More importantly the Lakers have won 4-straight.
Comparing Wilt and LeBron is, of course, apples to oranges. I just want to point out a fact or two.
In Wilt’s day, you weren’t allowed to play in the NBA until the college class you entered with had graduated. Wilt, frustrated by being ganged up on by entire teams, played what would have been his senior year at Kansas with the Harlem Globetrotters.
In those first four years of LeBron’s career, in the NBA, straight out of high school, he scored 8,439 points. Surprisingly, in LeBron’s fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth years, at age (approximately) 22-26, he scored 8,923 points. Only 484 more points in what should have been the prime of his life.
Wilt in those years (age 22-26), keeping in mind that one was his rookie season, scored 13,355 points, including, in his third season, his 50 points-per-game.
Is it fair to say that Wilt would have scored 10,000 points from 18 to 22 years of age had he been in the NBA? I think it’s a safe bet.
Hard to believe, but LeBron is already in his 16th NBA season. He is quite durable and has never suffered a major injury. Wilt played only 14 seasons, in my estimation walking away much like Jim Brown did, with a few good years still ahead of him. In one of those seasons (69-70), Wilt played in only 12 games due to a knee injury.
Here’s a few fun facts about Wilt’s career. In 61-62, when he averaged 50.4 points per game, he had 45 games in which he scored over 50 points, including his 100. Never wanting to come out of a game, he actually averaged 48.5 minutes per game (an NBA game is 48 minutes). Wilt averaged in that season over a point a minute (1.037) per game. Never matched. The year after Wilt changed his game to help Philly get past Boston and win the NBA title over San Francisco, he led the league in assists per game, at 8.6, the only time a center has led (he averaged 7.8 assists, 24 points, and 24 rebounds the title year – 67). In his last two years with the Lakers, including his second title in ’72, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich handled much of the scoring. Wilt still scored 19.2 points and 18.6 rebounds per game, starting a wicked fast break, again unheard of numbers today. Wilt’s field goal percentage his final season? .727.
Yes, players over 7-foot were rare in the 60’s. But Wilt was an athlete. Before he gave up track and field, he high jumped 6-foot-6, ran a 49 flat 440, 1:58.3 880, long jumped 22-feet and put the shot 53-4. He played volleyball during and after his pro ball career. Could Wilt have played the “stretch-4” position like today’s big men? I believe he could have if it were asked of him. Despite his free throw woes, he had a soft touch on his turnaround and fade away jumpers. He could have developed a 3-point shot had he wanted to – and had there been one. Of LeBron’s 11,419 field goals, 1,645 have been 3-pointers. Wilt made 12,681 – the hard way.
Lastly, as once the first and now the sixth-leading scorer of all time, Wilt’s 14 seasons were the fewest of the other five. Kobe was the only other straight out of high school and played 20 seasons. Kareem, after four years at UCLA, played 21 seasons. Karl played 19 after three at Louisiana Tech, Jordan 15 after three at North Carolina.
So, yes, I’m a Wilt fan (See Postscript below). I don’t begrudge LaBron or those who will surpass his milestones. I’m just trying to keep it all in perspective.
P.S. On being a Wilt fan: One beach trip when there was an excessive amount of seaweed washed up on shore, my kids and I didn’t build a sandcastle, we built Wilt. LOL. Thanks for reading.