Two years ago, I ran the Around the Bay Race - 30 kilometres of blood, sweat and tears. During some of it I was flying by and in others, it was a real challenge. This is how I would describe reading A View from Above by Wilt Chamberlain. The difference between the race and the book? I would rather run 30 kilometers than read this book again. This is the first book we have discussed in "Basketball Beyond the Floor" which I did not like. I am glad I read it because I learned a new perspective on some things and got to know Wilt a little better. However, it was very hard to read and his thoughts were all over the place. It was only until the chapter he dedicated to sex and love (yes, there was a chapter on this) did he even sound coherent. You know what's funny? Not so much the cheesy "Wiltisms" throughout the book as if he was some great philosopher, but how he also dedicated one chapter to "Things that Piss me Off" when that was really what most of the book was about. It was supposed to be a collection of his thoughts on on his life, life in general and a little basketball sprinkled on top. But instead, it left you wondering why he didn't stop at Wilt (the first book he wrote). Let's discuss the parts that made sense and yes, the part about his "legacy" aside from basketball.
There's no one like me
"...you have to understand that when I played basketball, I was in my opinion, one of the best players in the game...one of the best players who ever lived" (Wilt Chamberlain). Yes, when Wilt the Stilt took to the floor, everyone noticed. But he hasn't played a professional basketball game since 1974, so to argue he was one of the best players who ever lived, some might challenge this argument. He was talented and confident in his abilities but if we are going to make a list of the greatest basketball players of all time, there's needs to be a definitive list of attributes. One of them has to be overall skills set and not just the player's proficiency at one particular skill. I will give him one thing, though. Wilt admits in the book to his one downfall: being a lousy foul shooter. He talks about how he used to have a deep knee bend but after his knee injury, he had to change his shooting style a few times.
We all have opinions on what makes a great basketball player but is there a way we can spell out when said player should retire? Wilt Chamberlain makes a valid point in the book: "...many ex-players are simply not ready to deal with the world as civilians, without the pomp and pageantry they experienced most of their adult life as stars in college and in professional sports". Is this why Brett Favre keeps changing his mind about retiring from the NFL? Why other players like him crave the locker room camaraderie and find it hard to leave their respective games? This is why it is so important for today's players to plan for life beyond the NBA and how to handle their money properly. Sure, as fans it is hard to relate to the amount of money an NBA rookie might make in a year, but believe it or not poor investing and spending habits have put many an athlete in the red, not just in basketball.
Wimps and Jerks
"In my opinion, most of the coaches in the NBA are wimps. They let superstars get away with murder, too terrified to take things into their own hands because their job is at stake" (Wilt Chamberlain). Some might argue this is true. Is this why majority Cavs owner Dan Gilbert threw a fit when LeBron James left for Miami? They spent seven years catering to LeBron's needs, not planning for the future and when LeBron finally left, Gilbert is left with the guilt of not standing up to him? Who knows. But I agree with Wilt in that it is much harder to be a hero today with the lack of imagination left up to the fan to be able to even choose their own hero. Right out of college, players are being marketed as a package and sometimes, their life off the court is not taken into consideration. There's nothing wrong with admiring someone for their basketball skills but you learn more about their character from what they do off the court and realize what kind of a person they really are. That's why we shouldn't be so quick to choose our heroes based on their stats.
In their defense though, the athletes are taken advantage of because of their "hero-like status". In the book, Wilt describes how a woman claiming to be a movie star wanted to meet with him about the possibility of collaborating on a project. One thing leads to another and Wilt engages in a sexual encounter with this woman. In the throws of passion, she talks about how easy it is for her to get pregnant and he bolts. He later finds out she and her boyfriend were targeting players in the hopes of catching them in a paternity suit and then cashing in on it. This doesn't mean I feel sorry for Tiger Woods, not in the least. But at least Wilt wasn't married with children.
Yes, I slept with THAT many women
"...don't be shocked to hear that if I had to count my sexual encounters, I would be closing in on twenty thousand" (Wilt Chamberlain). He even refers to this number as a drop in the bucket. Really? I know some people like to brag about the number of notches on their bedpost so-to-speak but this is a little much. I will give him credit, though. He loves women and will defend them. He lists Jackie Joyner Kerse as one of his top five athletes and argues women are more logical when it comes to choosing something of real value. I agree with the example he gives on how women are talked down to at car dealerships and I agree with him that showing emotion is not necessarily a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. But part of me questions his loyalty to the opposite sex when he starts chapter one of this book with "Recently, I was out with a young lady...". It makes you wonder if this supposed loyalty is misplaced.
Flick Pick of the Week
This weekend I want you to watch 'Conan the Destroyer'. Guess who plays Bombaata, a character in the movie? Yes, it was Wilt Chamberlain in his first major role. Don't get too excited at the level of acting since his real skills are definitely on the basketball court.
So for next next week we will be reading Tall Tales: The Glory Years in the NBA by Terry Pluto. Remember to join me on Tuesday for another serving of "Jiggly Bits". Until then, happy reading.