A legend both on and off the court, Chamberlain would have turned 76 yesterday. Even if he had lived that long, does his (in)famous claim add up?
Wilt Chamberlain, at 7'1″, may have been the most dominating and amazing basketball player of all time. In his legendary career, Wilt scored 31,419 points,
including the unbelievable time he actually scored 100 points in one game. He holds dozens of unbreakable basketball records.
In addition to his accomplishments on the court, Wilt also authored four books. None of the others created nearly the stir and controversy as his 1991
book, A View From Above.
In it, Wilt claimed to have slept with 20,000 different women in his life.
A media firestorm erupted, and Wilt was attacked from all sides. The country was at the height of the AIDS crisis, and activists criticized Wilt for his
promiscuity. He also came under fire in African-American circles for promoting black racial stereotypes. And feminists resented his blatant sexism for
using women in such a manner.
To Wilt's credit (I guess), he never backed down from his claim, never said he was just "bragging" or "stretching the truth." He simply stated: "I was just
laying it out there for people who were curious."
Wilt was emphatic that he never went to bed with a married woman. "I was just doing what was natural -- chasing good-looking ladies, whoever they were and
wherever they were." But could he really sleep with 20,000 different women? Let's analyze it.
Doing the Math
If Wilt started at the age of 15, from then up to the age of 55 (when the book was published) he would have had 40 years to sleep with 20,000 women, or 500 different women a year-easy math.
That works out to roughly 1.4 women a day.
According to close friends, Wilt loved threesomes. According to legend, he was intimate with 23 different women on one 10-day road trip. Wilt was also a lifelong insomniac, sometimes just not sleeping at all. He probably would take a woman to bed any time he couldn't fall asleep.
But the time factor is an interesting point. A close childhood friend, Tom Fitzhugh, said, "I don't remember him having a date. He was probably a virgin when he left high school." So let us assume Wilt really started around the age of 18, which ups the average to 1.5 women per day for 37 years.
Additionally, he did have a six-month schedule, for 14 seasons, of playing professional basketball. That's 82 games a season, not including playoffs, exhibitions, practices, and travel time.
The fact that he said 20,000 different women also leaves little time for repeats, or love. And what about sickness? Everyone gets sick once in a while, which would have cost Wilt precious time during those 37-40 sexually active years.
But most incredibly, even with those reported 20,000 sexual liaisons, Wilt is not known to have contracted any serious sexually transmitted diseases. Nor was there ever a woman who came forward with an unplanned pregnancy, a "little Wilt," or a paternity suit.
And what about turn-downs? Every guy in human history has been turned down by a woman at some point. One can only wonder at Wilt's rejections... probably extremely few, to manage that 20,000 record.
In a 1999 interview, shortly before he died, Wilt made the following revealing statement:
"Having a thousand different ladies is pretty cool, I've learned in my life. I've (also) found out that having one woman a thousand different times is more satisfying."
So perhaps he made time for repeats after all.
Chamberlain died of heart failure in 1999 in the city of Bel Air, California, at the age of 63.
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As a sidebar, Wilt was a huge hero of mine -- my supreme basketball hero, as a kid and to this day. I wore Wilt's number 13 on my jersey as I ineptly played for my synagogue's basketball team. (I scored 18 points in 18 games, a nifty 1.0 scoring average.)
Many years later, I met "Wilt the Stilt" at a book-signing for the infamous A View From Above, and I even got to shake his hand. It was, far and away, the biggest hand I have ever seen (or shaken). He didn't just shake my hand-he engulfed it!
A version of this post originally appeared on Mental Floss, an Atlantic partner site.