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Old 08-07-05, 01:08 AM
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LMAO! Charley Rosen vs Wilt Chamberlain!

My date with the Big Dipper

Charley Rosen / Special to FOXSports.com
Posted: 9 hours ago

Here's how I got to play against Wilt Chamberlain:

Back in the early 1960s, the NBA season concluded in early-to-mid April. And since the best parties were in New York, many players based on the East Coast flocked there to start celebrating the long off-season.

It was late April 1961, and I'd just completed my junior season as a record-setting scorer (24.2 ppg) and rebounder (16.0 per game) for Hunter College — a middle-of-the-pack member of the Tri-State league which was dominated by the likes of Fairfield and Bridgeport. In some circles, I was deemed a White Hope and projected as being at least draftable by an NBA team. (Note: There were only eight teams in those days, but anywhere from 10 to 15 rounds in the draft.) More knowledgeable observers, however, noted my flat-footed hops and my floppy hands and pegged me as a small-time big man.

In any case, Hunter's coach Mike Fleischer had been a teammate of Floyd Layne on the CCNY baseball team. Floyd, of course, was the clever point guard on CCNY's double-championship basketball team in 1950 (winning both the NIT and NCAA tournaments). Like several of his teammates, however, Layne was later discovered to have been in league with gamblers to fix the outcome of several games.

If Layne was subsequently barred from the NBA, he became an outstanding performer in the Eastern League, a tough, week-end outfit whose best teams were believed to be better than the NBA's worst teams. During the week, Floyd ran afternoon and evening recreational programs at several junior and senior high schools near his Bronx home.

All of these factors made Floyd's springtime "runs" the most illustrious, and most competitive, in the Metropolitan area. One memorable Tuesday evening, I received a phone call from my coach commanding me to be at such-and-such a place at 10 p.m.


The Dipper was in town and needed some exercise.

The scene of the royal appearance was a junior high school in a racial ghetto in the South Bronx. Come game-time and Chamberlain was nowhere in sight, but the bleachers had been rolled out and about 500 kids were on hand, screaming for somebody — anybody — to dunk the ball. Mine was the only pale face in sight.

The only other players I knew were Floyd; a tough little guard named Junior Martin; and a hot-shooting forward, Ralph Bacot, whose nom-de-hoop was "Durango." While waiting for the feature attraction, Floyd arranged equitable sides and we were off — 15 baskets wins. In theory, the offense called the fouls, but unless blood was showing nobody dared to do so.

In my own Mikanesque fashion, I managed to drop a few hook shots, and was on the verge of feeling confident, when the fans voiced a collective "Oooooo!" And there he was — the 7-foot-1, 280-pound colossus who shredded all the existing NBA scoring and rebounding records as a rookie, and then bested himself in his sophomore season.

Even the players in mid-game stopped to savor his dramatic entrance: Wilt was wearing a silk shirt, a gold medallion on a thick gold chain, non-descript black pants and, on his bare feet, tasseled black loafers. Walking behind him in single file were four beautiful women — one carried a pair of huge sneakers, another had a towel draped around her shoulders, a third toted sweat socks, and the fourth had a small bottle of cologne.

The young bleacherites were respectful, and a space cleared on the lowest bench for Wilt and his entourage. He shod his loafers, pulled on his sweat socks, laced up his sneakers, and carefully shed his shirt. The pants stayed on.

Then he warmed up for a few minutes — his trademark fallaway jumpers from the left box, some fluid hooks and even a couple of one-handers from the top of the key. Acceding to popular demand, he also executed several rather dainty dunks.

Floyd proceeded to rearrange the sides — Durango, Junior and I were among the Shirts, while Layne joined Wilt on the Skins.

"Shirts' ball," Floyd pronounced, and we were under way.

Matched against Chamberlain, I didn't presume to move into my favorite spot in the pivot, choosing to aimlessly wander around the perimeter instead. Durango hit a long jumper from the baseline, and we were up 1-0.

If I could be relatively anonymous on offense, guarding Wilt was to accompany him in the spotlight. What to do? Fronting him would be futile. But so would playing behind him, or three-quartering him.

As he settled into the left box, Wilt actually acknowledged my presence. "Hey, boy. You can foul me all you want and I won't call it. Just stay away from my face."

Whoa! He smelled like a distillery! Had anybody lit a match in his vicinity, the entire building would have exploded. He had to be drunk!

Indeed, he seemed much more intent on passing rather than shooting — receiving the ball, waving it around in one huge hand before hitting a cutter or open shooter. (Wilt did, however, take — and make — a pair of fallaway jumpers.) Nor was he interested in moving to the offensive boards. And guarding me so far from the basket was also out of the question. I was relieved, but also disappointed.

On the defensive end, I stationed myself behind Wilt and tried to shove him off his spot. At 6-foot-9, 235-pounds, I was far from being a weakling — but I felt as though I was trying to move the Statue of Liberty. On one sequence, I stepped back, then ran into him with a lowered shoulder as though trying to break through a locked door — but I simply bounced off his massive back.

The only time I touched the ball on offense, I passed to Martin. And, even though I had an adept touch from 16-18 feet, I didn't even dare think of shooting. But Martin and Durango shot the Shirts into a 15-12 victory.

Wilt went to the bench to towel off, and then we were ready to go back at it.

This time, he was more intense. When he posted on the right box, dribbled into the middle, and flipped up a finger-roll, I wound up with a face-full of wet, odorous armpit.

On another occasion, one of my teammates shot and missed, so I decided that I'd try to block Wilt off the boards. Accordingly, I extended my right forearm to make contact with his chest, then prepared to hip him to whichever side he chose to approach the backboard. What he did, however, was to slip a mighty arm under my arm, so that his forearm was under my armpit. Then he stepped forward, locking my right arm between our bodies. And then he simply one-armed me out-of-bounds, tossing me as far, and as easily, as if I was made of straw.

Grabbing the errant shot, he threw it down — to the fans' shrill delight. (Even as I picked my self off the floor and scooted downcourt, my mind sought to avoid the profound embarrassment by short-circuiting, and the only thought that survived was a strictly bourgeoisie judgment: Hey, it's nearly midnight and there's school tomorrow. Shouldn't these kids be home in bed?)

With my brain scrambled, I attempted the unthinkable: I was a step above the key when I received a pass from Martin, and Wilt was once again ensconced near the rim, at least twenty feet away. Sure, I was a step out of my range, but what the hell …? So I fired up the shot … and it plopped through the net!

The young fans acted as though I'd just taken off my pants. "Oooooooooo!"

Before Wilt could retaliate, one of the Skins' guards (not Floyd!) misdribbled and the ball was turned over to us.

Now, I'd played enough in Harlem and Bed-Stuy to know the protocol: Do what you did until you missed. Sure enough, Martin presented me with the ball in just about the same spot, Wilt remained in the shadow of the rim, so I fired up another jumper …

WHAM!

Somehow, Chamberlain closed the gap between the time I cocked the shot and the ball spun off my fingertips. Was my release that slow? Was he that fast? Or what?

BOP!

The shot was not only blocked, but it came back at me at warp-speed, bounced off the top of my head, knocked me to the floor (again!), and caromed into the bleachers! Imagine the celebratory whoops from the stands—and also from the players.

Turned out that Durango and Martin never cooled off, and the Shirts won again, 15-13. Afterward, the fans crowded around Wilt not to get his autograph, or shake his hand, but merely to touch him. (A few of them pointed at me and laughed.) He toweled off, splashed himself some of the cologne, changed shoes, put on his shirt, and, with his ladies in tow, made a grand exit stage right.

And what did Floyd have to say to me? "Good job," he said with a smirk. "I'll call Coach when Russ gets into town."

So, "my" team had swept Wilt's team in an abbreviated two-game series—and I'd scored an important bucket. But, I was never drafted, and either Bill Russell never showed, or Floyd never made the call.

Worst of all, I'd been revealed as just another White Hopeless.

Charley Rosen, former CBA coach, author of 12 books about hoops, the current one being A pivotal season — How the 1971-72 L.A. Lakers, is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com. changed the NBA
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