Monday, October 11, 2021

61. Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door by Wilt Chamberlain and David Shaw

Somebody has been slowly dropping off a large collection of 60s and 70s hardback non-fiction biography and autobiography books in the St-Viateur free shelf these last couple of weeks.  It's mostly Canadian and British political figures (you know you are getting old when you feel a teeny but quickly suppressed inkling to read a Joe Clark biography) so I was quite excited to stumble upon Wilt's autobiography.  I've educated myself on the hoops of the 60s and 70s with some recent sports journalism reads, so I was psyched to find an actual primary source on the subject.

A lot of this book is Wilt, coherently and convincingly, arguing against the consistent criticisms he faced throughout his career.  When you are exposed to the absolute insanity of his career stats (he led the leg in at least one of scoring, rebound or assists each of his 14 seasons) that go beyond his most famous exploits (10,000 women, 100 point-game), it does seem to suggest that people sort of had it out for him.  The two biggest critiques of him were: 1) that he wasn't actually that skilled or worked hard, just really big and 2) that he couldn't win when it counted.  Both are bullshit. There was a lot of tension and drama around Wilt and the other big men.  He and Russell went at it as did he and Kareem.  His supporting of Nixon is really an excellent example of a smart person being blinded by his wealth and privilege (comparably to some of these anti-vaxxer players today) and is for me Wilt's second biggest actual flaw.  

The biggest flaw is that, at least the way he tells it here, he is a little bit boring.  He seems like a really cool, intelligent life winner who isn't actually all that interesting, though probably a lot of fun to hang out with.  In some ways, he is kind of a superman who kind of transcends race and class at the time (relatively speaking).  He is certainly very outspoken about racism which he recognizes and calls out fairly frequently in the NBA and NCAA, but he seems to have mostly avoided actual ill effects by dint of his innate physical superiority and coolness.  So he doesn't play it safe, but somehow it all comes off very rational and even-keeled.  He goes through all his seasons and the playoff endings in some detail, which while interesting for a hoops nerd like me also makes the book unthrilling.

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