The Philadelphia 76ers are paying 7-ft. 1-in. Wilt Chamberlain $250,000 to play professional basketball this winter, and nobody can say that he hasn't gone all out to earn this record sum. Wilt, for instance, thought up a new basketball strategy called reductio ad absurdum. In seven seasons with the San Francisco Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers, Chamberlain averaged 39.6 points a game, and even got as high as 100 points in one gameyet his teams never won a championship. Last year, he was persuaded to shoot less and enjoy it more as a playmaker and rebound hawk. The 76ers, after a 68-13 season record, went on to beat the Warriors for the N.B.A. title.
At the start of this season, though, Chamberlain carried his selfless one-for-all tactics from the sublime to the ridiculous. He continued to set up plays and engulf the backboards. But presumably on the theory that the less he scored, the better Philadelphia fared, Wilt hardly went for the basket at all. In his first 16 games, he averaged only 15 points. Against the Warriors last month he scored exactly one pointon a foul shotand did not so much as attempt a field goal in the entire game.
The strategy would have been all right if the 76ers were running away from the league as they did last year, but they are not. They already have lost nine games, or two-thirds the number they lost all last season. Coach Alex Hannum finally told Chamberlain to be a little piggy out there, take himself a shot now and then. Wilt's response was to pump in 52 points against the Seattle Supersonics. He hit for 34 against the Chicago Bulls, 29 against the Cincinnati Royals, and the 76ers suddenly began to show some of the old spirit. Rattling off four straight victories, they swept past the Boston Celtics and took over the N.B.A.'s Eastern Division lead.