4.02.2008

Red Tried to Get Wilt

In the summer of 1953, Milt Kutsher, owner of Kutsher's Country Club, a resort in the Catskill Mountains of up-state New York, enticed 15 of the nation's best college basketball players to work at his club as bus-boys and bell-hops.

One of the bellhops stood out from the rest.

Still only a high school kid, he was an enormous 7'1," and weighed more than 240 pounds.

His name was Wilton Norman Chamberlain.

At night, the college players and Wilt gathered around the basketball court at the country club to play pick-up games. After watching a few of the games, Kutsher decided the boys might benefit from some formal coaching, and made a call to an old friend of his from Washington, D.C., who was now coaching in Boston.

The first time Red Auerbach saw Chamberlain in person, he didn't say a word. He just stood at a distance so he could soak in the totality the young man who became known as the Big Dipper. During practices Auerbach tried to push Wilt at both ends of the floor. But Wilt, only 16, and in high demand by colleges around the country, lacked motivation to listen.

Still, the two got along well, and when the summer ended, Auerbach started his sales pitch.

"Ever thought about going to Harvard?" Auerbach asked Wilt.

At the time, the NBA had a territorial draft, which allowed each team to exploit the draw of local talent by giving owners the right to draft college players from their territory.

Again, Wilt wasn't particularly interested.

This didn't stop Red, who immediately called Celtics owner Walter Brown.

"Get out your checkbook, Walt. We need to persuade Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain that their son should attend Harvard."

Brown didn't support the idea, and Wilt, a Philadelphia kid, ended up getting drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors.

The Warriors' draft pick was highly unusual, as it was a so-called "territorial pick" despite the fact that Chamberlain had spent his college years in Kansas, which is not a region covered by Philadelphia.

However, Warriors owner Eddie Gottlieb, one of the NBA's founding fathers, argued that Chamberlain had grown up in Philadelphia and had become popular there as a high school player; and because there were no NBA teams in Kansas, he argued, the Philadelphia Warriors held his territorial rights and could draft him. The NBA agreed, marking the only time in NBA history that a player was made a territorial selection based on his pre-college roots.

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