The Emerging Popularity of the NBA


Author: Sue Chehrenegar 


Throughout most of the 1950s the general public took little notice of the NBA. College basketball games held greater interest in the mind of most sports fans. Then in 1959 the Philadelphia Warriors hired an African American from the streets of Philadelphia, a man once called "The Big Dipper" That new Warrior's player was Wilt Chamberlain.


Wilt helped to bring a larger audience to some NBA games. People could not help but notice Wilt's size, 7 feet and 1 inch tall and a hefty 260 pounds. When in an upright position, Wilt possessed an incredibly long extension. He could reach as much as 9 feet and 7 inches above the level of his shoulders. Wilt's long back and strong muscles gave him the ability to lift 625 pounds.   


Then there was that unique Chamberlain style. Wilt's playing style forced the members of the opposing team to increase the speed at which they dribbled down the floor. Wilt's habit of dunking the ball in the basket led those defending the basket to refine their defensive pose.  He brought all of the NBA teams closer to the basket. 


As the public took-in the greater speed of the NBA players, and as sports fans observed the way that NBA players had gotten real close to the basket, the public developed an interest in professional basketball. The NBA experienced larger and larger crowds at its games.  Then on March 2, 1962 something happened that really improved the attendance at NBA games.


On that night Wilt Chamberlain entered the record books.  He created a record that still stands today. On that night Wilt Chamberlain made 36 field goals (Back then all field goals gained the scorer two points.) and 28 free throws. In a single game Wilt Chamberlain had scored a total of 100 points. 


Perhaps the most remarkable thing about that night was the fact that so few people learned about Wilt's achievement.  That game between the Philadelphia Warriors and the New York Knicks took place in a cold and drafty gym, a gymnasium located in Hershey, PA.  Because few reporters bothered to cover that game, Wilt Chamberlain's achievement did not get widespread coverage. 


Somehow, by word of mouth alone (No Internet then existed.) the public heard about Wilt's 100 points. Soon after that the attendance at NBA games rose significantly. One of the 1960s professional basketball players, Oscar Robertson, commenting on what Wilt did for the NBA said this: "I believe Wilt Chamberlain single-handedly saved the league."


One night in 1962 paved the way for today's public love for professional basketball. 



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