Most NBA fans say the greatest player of all time is either Michael Jordan or LeBron James. A small subset of Lakers fans might nominate the late Kobe Bryant. Yet when it comes to sheer dominance, even those three stars pale in comparison to Wilt Chamberlain.
Decades after retiring, Chamberlain still holds a staggering 68 individual records, reports the New York Daily News. All of those records reflect Chamberlain’s talent. Yet one stands out: the number of Chamberlain’s 50-point games. Let’s investigate the significance of a 50-point game and learn about Chamberlain’s seemingly unbeatable record.
The lure of the 50-point game
To score 50 points in one game has always been a yardstick of individual excellence. Historically, it’s also been one of the most difficult feats to achieve. Even at the start of the last decade, only a small percentage of players were capable of notching a 50-point game.
In recent years, 50-point NBA games have increased drastically. From 2015 to 2019, there were 72 50-point performances, reports The Ringer. Setting aside the numbers from Wilt’s peak years, this total is by far the most in any five-year stretch of NBA history. A faster-paced game and a drastically increased reliance on three-point shots fuel the surge of 50-point games.
The 2018-19 season saw the league set a new record, with 11 different players notching 50-point games. Before the current season was suspended due to COVID-19, 2020 was shaping up to be another torrid year for 50-point games. During one six-game stretch in January and February, Trailblazers point guard Damian Lillard racked up four 50-point games.
Wilt Chamberlain’s 50-point game record
Chamberlain spent 14 seasons in the NBA, between 1959 and 1973. He split the time between the Philadelphia Warriors, San Francisco Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Los Angeles Lakers. In his career, Chamberlain won four MVP awards, two NBA titles, one Finals MVP award, and participated in 13 All-Star teams.
More impressively, Chamberlain put up career averages of 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds per game. He proved so dominant that the NBA introduced several new rules simply to slow him down, including the offensive goal-tending rule. The league also widened the paint to make it harder for Chamberlain to post up without inciting a three-second violation.
Those rule changes put a damper on Chamberlain’s scoring averages in the second half of his career, although he was always one of the most fearsome offensive forces. Fifty-point outbursts were no strange feat for the 7-foot-1 center affectionately known as Wilt the Stilt. Throughout his career, Chamberlain broke the 50-point threshold in a total of 118 games.
Chamberlain’s record in historical context
The majority of Chamberlain’s 50-point games came during the five-year period between 1960 and 1965. Heck, during the 1961-62 season Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points over the course of an 80-game season. A feat like this is unthinkable in today’s NBA, no matter how prominent the three-point revolution.
The player with the second-most number of 50-point games in NBA history is Michael Jordan, who notched 31. Kobe Bryant managed to get 25, while James Harden currently sits at 23. LeBron James is seventh, with 12 50-point games. Damian Lillard, meanwhile, sits in 10th place, with nine. Chamberlain, meanwhile, totaled more 50-point games than all five of those players combined.