While it’s been quite a while since he last hit the court as an NBA player, few men cast a bigger shadow over the hardwood than Wilt Chamberlain. The legendary big man, however, left the public eye with contrasting reputations. Some remember him as a larger-than-life superhero, capable of scoring 100 points and leaping over defenders with a single bound. Others, however, think of Wilt as something of a jerk who rested on his laurels and believed he was above everyone else.
In at least one instance, though, he confirmed the former part of his legacy by defying the latter.
As the story goes, it happened shortly after Chamberlain’s retirement. When some New York City delivery men needed a hand, the center was happy to pitch in and move hundreds of pounds without batting an eye.
Wilt Chamberlain apparently lifted 600 pounds of boxes out of an elevator without thinking twice
If you’ve watched sports for any amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly seen players struggle to outrun Father Time. Even in retirement, though, Wilt Chamberlain was still a force to be reckoned with.
As the story (which was told by Steve Smith of Bleacher Report and came from a book about Billy Cunningham) goes, Wilt was visiting Madison Square Garden to discuss a potential comeback with the Knicks. While waiting for an elevator to arrive and take him to the ground floor, an issue arose. The lift was occupied by men who were delivering office supplies, and their dolly of boxes was so heavy that the elevator had stopped a few inches short of being level with the floor.
While the workers grappled with the challenge of getting their payload over the (literal) hump and out of the elevator, Wilt the Stilt came to the rescue. “Gentlemen, maybe I can help.” He reached down, grabbed onto the rope running underneath the dolly, and lifted it out of the car. He accepted the workers’ thanks with a simple, “You’re welcome,” and then rode down to street level to go on his way.
Back inside the Garden, someone asked the delivery men how much their cargo weighed. The estimate? About 600 pounds.
That story is another instance of Chamberlain’s strength but also shows a kinder side of the center
As I mentioned in the introduction, Wilt Chamberlain can have something of a split reputation. If we take the elevator anecdote as gospel — it was probably embellished a bit over the years — the story seems to confirm one part of the big man’s legacy while defying another.
In regards to the confirmation part, there are plenty of tales detailing just how strong and physically dominant Wilt the Stilt was. And, again, even if there was some exaggeration in these tall legends, it’s safe to assume the center was incredibly strong. When this many people are telling similar stories, after all, there has to be an element of truth.
With all of that being said, though, there’s still a less-than-ideal side to Wilt’s legacy. If you combine some stories from the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Chamberlain’s infamous claims about his number of romantic partners, it’s easy to think of the late Laker as a big man with an even bigger ego.
The elevator experience, however, seems to dispute that perception. While you could cynically argue that the NBA star just helped so he could be on his way, it’s unlikely that his entire day was predicated on that one elevator. The Knicks’ office probably had more than one exit, even if that meant waiting a few extra minutes or taking the stairs. Alternately, Wilt could have simply let the men unload the elevator themselves, even if it took a bit of time to individually move each box. Or, even if he did feel like he was obligated to help, he could have included a sarcastic, if not downright rude, remark.
And, in fairness to Chamberlain, there are other stories of him being a good guy. He spent more than a year supporting a dying girl and, according to some of his peers from the Harlem Globetrotter and volleyball days, Wilt could be downright generous.
So, who was the real Wilt Chamberlain? Was he a real-life superhero, prepared to use his size, strength, and fortune to help others? Or a jerk who thought he was both literally and figuratively bigger than everyone else?
As with most things, the truth was probably somewhere in the middle.
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