There is no mystery as to why a man who revolutionized the game of basketball is so underrated. It is because Paul Arizin is, quite simply, a man without a team. While Wilt would make a triumphant return as a Sixer after the Warriors moved, Arizin never got the chance, so his records are kept in the city of Oakland, where he never played a game in his life. Furthermore, he is underrated there as well, simply because he never played there. While the jersey numbers of Tom Meschery (12.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Al Attles (8.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg) hang in the rafters at Oracle Arena, Paul Arizin’s #11 is free to any player who wants to wear it, despite his 22.3 ppg and 8.6 rpg. Despite the fact that he has the 3rd most points and 5th most rebounds in franchise history and despite the fact that he was named one of the NBA’s 50 All-Time Greatest players in 1996**.
Paul Arizin was born in Philadelphia, and he shockingly did not make his high school team. After high school he went to Nova. He made a name for himself in the Catholic Youth Organization during his freshman year in college. He was approached by then Wildcat coach Al Severance and asked, “How would you like to go to Villanova?” He answered, “I already go to Villanova.” He started for the team his sophomore year, and was instantly a superstar. He averaged 20.1 PPG in his career, and despite playing only 3 years is the 5th all time leading scorer in Villanova history. Upon his death in 2006, Jay Wright said, “Paul Arizin was the most dignified, classy and humble legend I’ve ever met. He is adored and respected by anyone who has touched Villanova basketball.”
He was the first pick in the NBA Draft in 1950. He lived up to the billing. He averaged 17.2 PPG and was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year. The next year he led the league in scoring, at 25.4 a clip. But it wasn’t just his scoring that electrified the league…it was the way he did it.
When Paul Arizin entered the league, almost every player in the NBA was still utilizing the two handed set shot or the hook shot. The jump shot had been invented in the 1930s, but it was still seen as a circus shot, and was rarely used. Until Paul Arizin came along. Arizin had developed the jump shot as a youngster. As he told the Inquirer in 1998, he learned the shot while playing intramural ball in high school, “Because they held dances in those gyms, the floors would be very slippery. I couldn’t get feet set under me to try a hook shot, so I started shooting with my feet off the floor.”
Other players had tried, but Arizin was the first bonafied superstar to make the primary weapon in his arsenal. Once Paul became one of the premiere players in the game, other players started emulating him, and by the end of his career, he had relegated the two handed set shot to the same dustbin that held the peach basket and the stitched basketball.
Arizin took off two years to serve during the Korean War, and the Warriors went from contenders to the laughing stock of the league. As soon as he returned, the team improved, and in 1955-56, they won the NBA title, led by Arizin’s 24 PPG and 7.5 RPG.
He would maintain a high level throughout his career, averaging 21.9 points and 6.8 rebounds in 1961-62, the final year of his career. When the team decided to move to San Francisco, he decided not to make the trip, despite being the 2nd highest scorer on the team. The Philly native had been offered a job at IBM making more money than he was making in the NBA, and he decided to moonlight with a semi-pro team called the Camden Bullets. He remained in the area for the rest of his life, and passed away in 2006.
He gets to be number one on the list not only because he was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the NBA, but because he revolutionized how the very sport was played.
**He is one of only three in the Top 50 to not have their jersey retired. The other two were Dolph Schayes and John Lucas. Interestingly, the Sixers are in a very similar situation…Schayes played almost his whole career Syracuse as a National (the current Sixers). But since he only played one year in Philly, he has been ignored by Sixers brass. I’ll have another post on this soon.
I had so much fun with the 1911 A’s that I thought I’d do something similar for Wilt’s 100 point game. So I went to the library and looked at the Inquirer and Bulletin from the days immediately before and after Wilt’s 100 point game. The NBA was so bush league back then that there was no preview of the game in the paper on March 2nd, which was focused on the Phils spring training and a potential Floyd Patterson-Sonny Liston fight (They would fight in September, an easy win for Liston). The next day, once he had scored 100, there was more notice, but nothing like you’d see today. A couple of columns in the Inky and Bulletin. By the 4th, there was no mention of it in the paper. Everything you read below was taken from those two papers in the days surrounding the games (including that AMAZING political headline from the Bulletin below) and from an incredible piece in Sportsweek this week, an oral history by the people who were there. I added a bit of my own style, but all quotes and facts are real. Enjoy!
Technically, Wilt scored 104 points last night. That’s what his teasing roommates told him in the joyous locker room after last night’s superlative performance against the Knicks. After all he had gotten called for goaltending twice. But it will go down in the scorebooks as 100, crushing his previous record by 22. And when you consider that young Wilt is only 25 years old and just now entering his prime, you have to wonder what he will do to top this!
“I just hope nobody asks me when I’m going to score 120…because I never will,” said a jovial Chamberlain after the game.
Perhaps not, but when you consider the type of season he’s having this year, it seems like anything is possible. Chamberlain is obliterating the rest of the league, averaging over 50 points a game. In fact, there are some who are calling for the baskets to rise to offset the dominance of big men like Chamberlain.
Remarkably, a few hours before Wilt’s 100 point game, a young reporter named Bill Conlin reported in the Bulletin that Temple’s coach Harry Litwack (left) is predicting higher goals in the next few years.”It is my personal feeling that the baskets will be raised…in the next 2 or 3 years,” Litwack said. “The average college player of 6’3″ or 6’4″ can stuff the ball with little trouble.” In fact, Penn coach Jack McCloskey had his team practice on 11 1/2 foot rims on Tuesday, saying that the practice was “enlightening, but inconclusive…The biggest need in the game today,” said McCloskey, “is to take away the advantage the unskillfull big man has over the skilled smaller player.”
Needless to say, McCloskey was not referring to Wilt, who is as skilled as anyone in the sport. Of course, his height didn’t hurt him on this night, when Knicks were playing without starting center Phil Jordan, who was out with the flu*. Neither did his free throw shooting.
“I wasn’t thinking of hitting 100,” said Chamberlain, “But after putting in nine straight free throws I was thinking about a foul shooting record.”
Well, he set a couple of those too, making 28 out of 32, both records that I suspect will still be held many years from now.**
His shooting from the field was good but not great (he finished 36 for 63). Needless to say, once his teammates and the crowd realized that 100 was a possibility, he touched the ball almost every time down the court. The Knicks, desperate to not give up 100, tried to freeze the clock by dribbling in circles. Warriors coach Frank McGuire countered that by having his players foul the Knicks. As the great Paul Arizin of the Warriors said after the game, “If anyone walked into the arena (then), they would think they were winning and we were losing.”
Indeed, the Warriors kept frantically feeding Wilt, and he kept hitting short layins over poor 6’8″ Cleveland Buckner, who was left to guard him after Darrell Imhoff, who was filling in for Jordan, fouled out. Wilt hit a couple of impressive fadeaways while in the 90s, then with 98 points and less than a minute remaining, he gathered in a short pass from Joe Ruklick (below, with Wilt), spun and dropped a short shot softly into the basket. He had 100! The crowd, which had been chanting “Pass to Wilt, Pass to Wilt!” throughout the 4th quarter, rushed the court. Eventually it was cleared, and the game resumed, with Wilt standing off to the side. He attempted no more shots, but it was no surprise that he stayed in the game. After all, he’s only missed 8 minutes all season, and is averaging more than 48 minutes per game!
After the game, Wilt was visibly excited about the new record. “It’s really something. I sure do feel different. Triple figures. Wow!” His teammates were ecstatic as well. Arizin said, “I never thought I would see it happen when I broke into this league, but when Wilt came along I knew he’d do it someday. It’s a fantastic thing. I’m very happy for him.”
In the Inquirer today, there was a story about Ted Williams being asked if anyone would ever hit .400 again, considered the benchmark in all of baseball. “Sure, there are going to be more .400 hitters,” said Williams. That remains to be seen, but it is worth noting that the 100 point game will almost certainly become a similar benchmark in basketball, and one has to wonder which record will be broken first, the .400 season or the 100 point game. Asked if anyone would break his record after last night’s game, Wilt slyly answered, “I’d hate to try to break it myself.”
IN OTHER SPORTS NEWS: -The All Catholic League Team and All Public League teams released their All-Stars today. Among the All Catholics was Matt Goukas of St. Joe’s, and the All Public League included All Stars Earl “The Pearl” Monroe of Bartram and Fred Carter of Franklin.
-Robin Roberts has begun training camp for the first time in his career with a new team…the New York Yankees. Roberts, the greatest pitcher in Phils history, struggled to a 1-10 season last year with a 5.85 ERA, and was in need of a fresh start. “It’s great to be…a Yankee,” said Roberts. “This is a new world.”***
-The 1964 election is still two years away, but there is a name quickly gaining traction in Republican circles. That is George Romney, who after a successful stint as head of the American Motors Corporation has decided to run for governor of Michigan. Remarkable that a man with no political experience is already considered a frontrunner for the 1964 nomination.****
-Four Philadelphia police sergeants are being trained to use a new device called the “Breathalyzer”, which can be used to determine the amount of alcohol a driver has had.
And before we go, a word from our sponsors, the Trocadero Burlesk Theatre. Without their support, none of this would be possible.The tantalizing tassel twirler Stormy is performing tonight. Don’t think I want to miss that one! I’ll see ya at the 9:55 show!
*Imhoff revealed in that Sportsweek piece that Jordan actually missed the game with a hangover, not the flu. How incredible is that? If Phil Jordan doesn’t get wasted the night before the game, the Knick have their starting center, and it’s almost certain that Wilt doesn’t score 100.
**Adrian Dantley would tie Wilt’s record with 28 made in a game in 1984. Dwight Howard currently has the record for most free throws attempted with 39, which he set in January (He made 21).
***Roberts would never pitch a game for the Yankees before being traded to the Orioles in May. He would indeed find new life in Baltimore, going 10-9 with a 2.78 ERA that season and winning 42 games total with the O’s before ending his career in Houston.
****His son Willard Mitt turned 15 ten days after Wilt’s 100 point game.