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 in particular, the name Wilt Chamberlain may sound familiar due to his much publicized personal life. What many people don’t realize is that before basketball became the focus of his life, the first sport Wilt fell in love with was track and field.
Chamberlain was born on August 21, 1936 and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he had eight brothers and sisters who all came from the same parents as their father William and mother Olivia. As a young man growing up in eastern Pennsylvania, Wilt famously stated that his first reaction to playing basketball was that he considered it “a game for sissies.” The sport young Wilt Chamberlain was exponentially most passionate about was track and field.
Before he even reached high school age, the bizarrely athletic Wilt Chamberlain is said to have jumped 6’6″, a mark that would win most high school track and field meets. Around the same time Wilt was also hitting ridiculously impressive long jump numbers that are considered to be up to 22 feet. For comparison purposes, nearly all high school track and field athletes cannot reach 22 feet in a running long jump and Wit is said to have reached that length from a standing long jump position.Broad-jumping talents perhaps can be expected considering what the public now knows of his success on the basketball court, however prowess in track and field which Wilt showed wasn’t limited to jumping events.
Thanks to the long strides and powerful running style employed by Chamberlain, he was a miraculous middle-distance runner as his preteen times of 49 seconds in the 440-yard dash (once around a standard track) and less than two minutes in the distance of 880 yards (twice around a standard track) are outstanding numbers even for a college athlete. Chamberlain excelled in every aspect of athletics, including running, jumping and throwing. He is said to have thrown a shot over 53 feet in his youth.
Chamberlain matured very quickly and continued to grow at a rapid pace. By the age of 10 the youngster was already 6 feet tall and by the time he started high school he was a staggering 6’11”. As a 7’2″ college freshman he played basketball at the University of Kansas (commonly referred to as KU) the 240-pound Chamberlain could reach 9’6″ in the air just by standing flat-footed (no toes).
Wilt began 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 100-yard dash in under 11 seconds and also threw put shot to 56 feet. Though he competed and excelled in both sprinting and throwing, his best events weren’t surprisingly the jumping events as Chamberlain triple jumped over 50 feet and successfully won the Big 8 Conference high jump competition three years in a row. In the world of track and field he is an extraordinarily rare athlete who can compete at the highest level in sprints shorter, in all jumping competitions and throwing competitions This dynamic collection of talents is so rare, in fact, that Wilt may be the only man ever to possess this unique skill set.