Monday, August 31, 2009

Two Observations from Wilt Chamberlain

Wilt Chamberlain lived into his sixties and saw a great many changes in his life. One of them was certainly the changing role of black people in America. He once pointed out that, as a youngster, he was referred to as a “colored boy.” Then the term “Negro” became fashionable. Then “black.” Then “Afro-American” or “African-American.” Or, sometimes, “a man of color.” Said Wilt:”I started out as a colored man, and ended up a man of color.”

For non-sports fans, Wilt Chamberlain was a gigantic man, seven-foot-one, who was 280 pounds of muscle. He was possessed of athletic ability that, at times, seemed to be not of this earth. He averaged over fifty points in a season and scored over 100 points in a single game, and these record have not even been approached.

In the recent remake of the film Bedazzled, Brendan Fraser appears in a variation on the Faust legend. He sells his soul to (The Devil) Elizabeth Hurley in exchange for seven wishes. In one of these scenarios, he plays an invincible athlete who, as the announcer describes, topped the single-game scoring record set in Hershey, Pennsylvania. As a true sports aficionado, that seemed appropriate. If anyone in the NBA ever exceeds that record, I would think that the only possible explanation would be that the guy who did it must have had a pact with Satan.

Once when a sportswriter commiserated with Chamberlain, it emerged that, though the man had accomplished amazing athletic feats, he was not popular save for in his hometown. Said Chamberlain with a shrug, “No one roots for Goliath.”

When Americans lament that their country is unpopular in the rest of the world, perhaps they should remember this as a partial reason why.

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