Skip to main content

Wilt Chamberlain had plenty of nicknames during his NBA days. He was known as “The Big Dipper,” “Dippy,” or “Dip” — all names he didn’t mind. His most famous nickname — “Wilt the Stilt,” was the one that stuck with him throughout his Hall of Fame basketball career. It’s also the one he absolutely hated.

Wilt Chamberlain suddenly became ‘Wilt the Stilt’ and wasn’t too happy about it

Wilt Chamberlain of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on against the Baltimore Bullets during an NBA game circa 1971 at the Baltimore Civic Center in Baltimore, Maryland. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

Chamberlain was 6-foot-11, 200 pounds in high school, so it’s safe to say he stood out, regardless of basketball ability. Being one of the most talented basketball players in the country, however, put him even more in the spotlight.

As a high school sophomore, Chamberlain was called “Wilt the Stilt” by Jack Ryan, a sportswriter for The Evening Bulletin. According to Robert Cherry, author of Chamberlain’s biography, Wilt: Larger than Life, it was a nickname he hated until the day he died.

“It makes me think of a big crane standing in a pond of water or some freak in a sideshow,” Cherry quoted Chamberlain as saying.

Cherry wrote about the time Hal Freeman, a reporter with the Philadelphia Inquirer, was alone with Chamberlain. Chamberlain asked him for a favor.

“I walked him about halfway home from school,” Freeman said. “He said, ‘Please don’t call me Stilt.’ I said that was fine with me, but a few days later, there it was again, in one of Ryan’s stories. Pretty soon everybody was using it. I gave in, too.”

Chamberlain’s nickname stuck with him

Unfortunately for Chamberlain, “Wilt the Stilt” grew on people. It became consistent headline material.

Larry Mann recalled a scrimmage between his school, Cheltenham High School, and Overbrook. He remembered getting warned not to use the nickname.

“During the warmups, I talked to Wilt,” Mann said, per Cherry. “My coach had warned me, ‘Don’t call him anything except Wilt or Dipper. Don’t call him Stilt.'”

Chamberlain preferred “Dippy,” “Dip,” or “Dipper.” He said he was once playing friends when he was about 10 years old and he always kept bumping his head in doorways. He recalled a time when he ran into a low-hanging pipe, giving himself a black eye.

“My pals got a good laugh and told me next time I ought to dip under when I came to something like that. They started calling me “the Dipper” after that. It became “Dipper” and then just “Dip” or “Dippy.”

Those are the nicknames Chamberlain loved. In fact, he had “Dipper” painted on the rear bumper of the Oldsmobile he drove during his high school years. While “Wilt the Stilt” might be more common, it’s the nickname he wanted nothing to do with.


Wilt Chamberlain: Biography, Career, Net Worth, Top Stories for the NBA Hall of Famer