Paul Pabst looks at what happened with the ball from Wilt’s 100-point night
Here is a story Paulie wrote for CBS in 2009.
On March 2, 1962 the lives of Wilt Chamberlain, Kerry Ryman and Cleveland Buckner came together for one mystical night. Wilt is a household name, Ryman and Buckner… not even close.
This was the night that Wilt, one of the most dominant athletes in American history, pulled off the impossible. He scored 100 points in one game.
The game lives on as something of legend. Only 4,124 fans witnessed the feat in Hershey, Pennsylvania as Wilt’s Philadelphia Warriors outran the New York Knickerbockers 169-147. There is no film of the game, just a crackling radio call and a picture of an almost embarrassed Wilt, in front of his locker holding a piece of paper with the number 100 scrawled on it.
On Friday, this game returned to the headlines because of Ryman. In 1962, Kerry Ryman was a 14-year-old fan in the stands that zipped onto the court after the buzzer sounded and heisted the game ball. In the commotion, Ryman made his way out of the gym and has possessed the record roundball ever since.
Ryman’s theft was small change at the time. A security guard, Gabe Basti, made chase and even recognized the teen, but little else was done.
“I chased the kid over a fence and through the park but never caught up with him,” Basti said. “But we knew it was Kerry and we knew where he lived. We could have gone to his house and gotten the ball back. But (Chamberlain) didn’t want it. He said, ‘Let the kid have it.'”
The statute of limitations on any possible theft charges ran out in 1975. Legally, the ball was Ryman’s until Friday.
This old, not too attractive piece of sports history was auctioned off at Lelands auction house in New York for, get this, $551,844.00. This is not a typing error.
“It has been a burden for me in some ways,” Ryman, now 52, said recently. “Every anniversary of Wilt’s death and every anniversary of the game, people call wanting pictures and interviews. I’m tired of it. I want to put it to rest.”
Could you imagine if Mark McGuire’s bat that he used to break Roger Maris’ single-season home run record was stolen by some opportunistic batboy? Janet Reno would pull an “Elian Gonzalez” on him and nobody would argue with her. We are in different times, lucky for Ryman. Don’t think too ill of the man, he is reportedly giving some of the proceeds to charity.
Now on to Cleveland Buckner, whose night in Hershey was akin to opening for Sinatra or being the preliminary fight for Ali. No matter what you do, the people came to see the big guy and the big guy didn’t disappoint.
Buckner came to the Knickerbockers as a sixth-round draft choice in 1961 from Jackson State University. This career 6.4 points-per-game scorer picked March 2, 1962 to have the highest-scoring game of his career, 33 points. He, however, is not even a bit bitter about having his best game overshadowed by the best game of them all.
“Oh yeah, that was my best in the NBA,” Buckner said between laughs. “No, I don’t hod a grudge at all.”
There was no way Buckner, or any other player of that day, could have expected to keep up with the 7-foot Chamberlain. To put it in perspective, the Los Angeles Lakers’ monstrous Shaquille O’Neal averaged 29.7 points a game this season. In the season that Wilt poured in 100, he averaged 50.4 points a game. Obviously these are two different eras, but Wilt was still an all-star player ahead of Shaq.
“He was just a big, strong person,” Buckner said of Wilt. “During that time we couldn’t stop him, nobody in the league could.”
Buckner remembers that the whole gym, fans and players alike were buzzing as Wilt powered his way towards 100 points.
“It just kind of built as the game went on,” Buckner said of the electricity in the building. “Even our players kind of knew it in the last quarter when they (Wilt’s teammates) kept trying to feed him, to get the 100 points. Our coaches didn’t really say much. They just told us to play our game.”
As the 100-point ball goes to some sports fan with some seriously disposable income, this fable will again be discussed by people who most likely weren’t at the game and possibly weren’t even born yet. As for Wilt the Stilt, he will continue his journey into a special realm of American lore, joining The Babe, The Galloping Ghost, Joltin Joe and Broadway Joe, among others. He is John Wayne with sneakers instead of cowboy boots, a 7-foot James Dean. If it is possible, Wilt will become even bigger.
“I was just lucky to have been there,” Cleveland Buckner said in a moment of unparalleled understatement.
By Paul Pabst.