50 years ago today, Wilt Chamberlain scored his record 100 points in a game. Present that night as Philadelphia Warriors publicist; game statistician; Philadelphia Inquirer correspondent; and AP and UPI stringer was Harvey Pollack, who invented the triple-double stat and has been employed in the NBA for every year of its existence (since 1946). Currently, he is the Philadelphia 76ers’ director of stats; he turns 90 next Friday. Earlier this week, I called Pollack up to get his reminiscences of the game. Here’s some of what he had to say.
The game was played March 2, 1962 in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Being the game was in Hershey and there was no turnpike in getting to Hershey, Eddie Gottlieb, the owner of the team, always left early by car or bus. We used to train there; depending on openings we’d have on our schedule, we’d play there during the season. The team went up by bus, and the press guy and the statisticians, we came up by automobiles, because we had to carry the ditto machines—it was like a purple carbon thing. You got purple on your hands.
We came early, arrived at 5 o’clock, right about the same time as the team did. The game wasn’t until 8 o’clock. The players migrated to the arcade in the front part of the building, where they had clay-shooting and pinball machines.
Wilt came down there and our 24-second clock operator, Ken Berman, challenged him to clay-shooting. He told Wilt to shoot first. Well, Wilt didn’t miss. Everything he shot, everything went down. So when he finished his turn, he said, “Ken, see if you can match that.” Ken missed on his first shot—that was it. Wilt took pity on him and didn’t collect his bet.
Meanwhile, the players are playing on the pinball machines, and Wilt started to needle ‘em all that he could’ve gotten better scores than any of ‘em. He kept winning every time. And he collected their money. That’s how they wiled away the time.
That particular night, I was the PR director of the team, the game statistician—those days you only had one statistician. I was asked by the Philadelphia Inquirer to cover the game for them. Near the end of the season, neither team was going to move up or down in the standings.
I was P.R. director; I was head of the stat-crew—head of myself. At Philadelphia, I was the stringer for the United Press International for the home games, either did ‘em personally or got one of the members of the media to do it. Then the AP also called me to ask me to cover the game.
At halftime [Wilt] had about 49 points [ed: he had 41]. A clue was what he did in that pinball! Second half started, I got the announcer [Dave Zinkoff] to announce every time Wilt scored a point, how many points it was. He described each field goal, or foul shots—and it was mainly two-for-two because he made 28 out of 32, which is by far the best in the history of the league.
Got down to the last minute. As the game went on, the people—the people were like a chorus for the announcer. “86 points!” he’d say. “86 points!” they’d say.
When he scored 100, everybody in the audience, 4,000 people, flew to the floor. The referee brought the ball over to me. “Why, something wrong with it?” I said. He said it should be saved. I agreed with him.
Eventually the game was concluded. I wrote a lead for the Inquirer, then coordinated the final box score, and then I went back to the dressing room. The ball was being passed around the room by everybody who was gonna sign it. I noticed there was one photographer, the only one who was there the whole game, but the first half he was only a spectator—was there with his son. At halftime he got his camera from his car. He worked for the AP.
I saw him. “You take all your pictures?” “Yeah, but I don’t really have anything that showed what he did.” I went to a reporter, ripped off a sheet of paper, wrote 100 on it, had the picture taken. Went outside, went to the phone, called the AP and UPI, had my son read the box scores, then I went to press table and wrote a completely new story for the Inquirer.
Wilt went back with the Knicks, because he had to be in New York the next night.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.