When Senior Editor Peter Carry arrived at his desk one morning recently, he found a message asking him to return the call of a "Mr. Chamberland." The number was in the telephone company's 213 area, which is Los Angeles. Carry knew no one named Chamberland but as SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S pro basketball writer for the past four seasons he was certainly familiar with a Mr. Chamberlain, who lives in area 213. Checking his address book, Carry found that the number on the message was indeed that of Wilton Norman Chamberlain.
"Once I was sure it was Wilt who had called, I was pretty certain I knew what he had called about," Carry says. "It seemed whenever I saw Wilt last season he was complaining how the regimentation and travel of basketball were finally grating on him, after all these years. I figured he had phoned to tell me he was going to retire.
"I wanted to call back right away, but it was only 10 in New York, which is 7 in California, and I knew that Wilt has had insomnia for years. He goes to sleep late and usually doesn't get up much before noon. That meant I'd better wait until afternoon. By the time I got back from lunch, Wilt was on the phone again."
After a brief discussion of the pleasures of vacationing in Yugoslavia—Carry once rented a house on the Adriatic island of Brae, while Wilt is a frequent visitor to the adjacent island of Hvar—they turned to the topic at hand. Chamberlain said he had indeed decided to give up his $600,000 salary and retire from basketball Was SPORTS ILLUSTRATED interested in an exclusive story on his departure from the game, his reasons for quitting and some Chamberlainesque parting shots?
SI was, and Associate Editor Roy Blount quickly was on his way to Los Angeles to get Wilt's words down on paper. The result of their collaboration begins on page 36.
Words by and about Wilt are nothing new to the pages of SI. Chamberlain is one of the few athletes whose career has almost exactly paralleled ours. At the time of SI's first issue in 1954, Wilt was about to start his senior year at Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, and he was already well known to serious basketball fans. He became nationally famous only a few months later—even before he went off to play for the University of Kansas—when he was drafted by the then Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA while still a schoolboy.
Chamberlain first appeared in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED just after he had graduated from Overbrook, and he has shown up in our pages every season since. He frequently has been on our cover, and in 1965 he co-authored a controversial two-part article, My Life in a Bush League, with Senior Editor Bob Ottum, in which he was openly critical of pro basketball.
Controversy and criticism have always marked Chamberlain's career, and his penchant for saying exactly what he thinks makes him a journalist's delight. Blount, who had never met him before, phoned from California while working on the story to say, "Wilt's sure doing a heap o' talking."
That's the Mr. Chamberland we've known these 20 years.