There was little doubt Wilt Chamberlain was ready for the NBA in 1958 but strange as it sounds today, he didn’t have that option. The league barred anyone who hadn’t completed four years of studies and Chamberlain had played only three years at Kansas. He had averaged more than 30 points and 18 rebounds per game but his size and ability put the defensive focus almost solely on him. College basketball had ceased to be fun.
Chamberlain may have been out of luck with the NBA–at least for a year–but the Harlem Globetrotters had no such rule. They offered him a $65,000 contract–more than triple what many NBA players were making at the time. After selling his story to LOOK Magazine, Chamberlain began touring with the Trotters.
In cooperation with RMY Auctions, our Photo of the Day is this recently uncovered publicity shot of Wilt with some skyscrapers in the background. Date stamped in March of 1959, the photo was used by a newspaper in Oregon to illustrate a story on the Trotters’ upcoming appearance there. It’s one of more than 300 rare images up for bid in RMY’s Holiday Auction, which ends Tuesday night.
Chamberlain had an eventful year with the Globetrotters, traveling to the Soviet Union where he and his teammates played in front of sellout crowds. Before a game at Lenin Central Stadium in Moscow, they met General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev.
While the NBA was clearly in his sights, Chamberlain enjoyed his time with the Trotters and 41 years after this photo was taken, the club retired his number 13.
In October of 1959, Chamberlain signed with the NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors and would play into the mid-1970s, racking up over 30,000 career points.
The 5 3/4″ x 9″ photo includes identifying marks on the back including his name “Wilt The Stilt” Chamberlain. It is missing the very tip of the lower right corner but is otherwise in good condition.
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