Wilt Chamberlain is best known by sports fans as one of the most dominant basketball players of all time. To people less familiar with sports and basketball specifically the name Wilt Chamberlain might have a familiar sound because of his much publicized personal life. What many people do not realize is that before basketball became the focus of his life the first sport that Wilt fell in love with was track and field.
Chamberlain was born on August 21, 1936 and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he had eight brothers and sisters that all came from the same parents of father William and mother Olivia. As a youth growing up in eastern Pennsylvania Wilt famously stated that his first reaction to the game of basketball was that he considered it to be “a game for sissies.” The sport that the young Wilt Chamberlain was exponentially more passionate about was track and field.
Before even reaching high school age the freakishly athletic Wilt Chamberlain is reported to have high jumped 6’6″ which is a mark that would win most high school varsity track meets. Around the same time Wilt was also putting up ridiculously impressive broad jump numbers that are understood to be as far as 22 feet. For comparison purposes almost all high school track athletes can not reach 22 feet in a running long jump and Wit is reported to have reached that length from a stationary standing broad jump position. The high jumping and broad jumping talents are perhaps to be expected considering what the public now knows about his success on the basketball court, however the track and field prowess that Wilt showed was not confined to jumping events.
Thanks to the long strides and powerful running style that Chamberlain employed he was a miraculous middle distance runner as his preteen times of 49 seconds in the 440 yard race (once around a standard track) and under two minutes in the 880 yard distance (twice around a standard track) are exceptional numbers for even a college athlete. Chamberlain excelled at every aspect of track and field including running, jumping, and throwing. He is reported to have tossed a shot put over 53 feet in his youth.
Chamberlain matured very quickly and continued to grow at a rapid pace. At the age of 10 the young man was already 6′ tall and when he started high school he was an astounding 6’11”. As a 7’2″ college freshmen playing basketball at the University of Kansas (commonly referred to as KU) the 240 pound Chamberlain could reach 9’6″ into the air just standing flat footed (no tip toes).
Wilt took up his first love of track and field at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas while also playing basketball there. The 7’2″ goliath ran a sub 11 second 100 yard dash and also threw the shot put 56 feet. Despite competing and excelling in both sprinting and throwing his best events were not surprisingly the jumping events as Chamberlain triple jumped in excess of 50 feet and successfully won the Big 8 Conference high jumping competition three years in a row. In the world of track and field it is an extraordinarily rare athlete that can compete at the highest level in the shortest sprints, all the jumping events, and the throwing events. This dynamic collection of talents is so rare in fact that Wilt might be the only man ever to possess this unique skill set.