Memorable Day for Wilt Chamberlain . . .
I took these photos in 1991, when Wilt returned
to Overbrook HS to be inducted
into the school's Hall of Fame. I found them when I was going through some boxes
of old "stuff." Hope you enjoy them.
Below the photos is the story I wrote that day for the Daily News.
Sonny Hill (back to camera) brought Rasheed Wallace, then
a sophomore at Gratz, to Overbrook that day so he could meet and
hang out briefly with Wilt.
In the school library, Wilt is interviewed by Gary Papa (L) and Ukee Washington (R), among others.
OVERBROOK VISIT 1 FOR THE BOOKS
by Ted Silary, Daily News Sports Writer
There are ways to make a grown man cry. Even a man who has grown to hard- to-fathom proportions.
First, you make him walk inside his old high school for the first time in 36 years.
Next, you place him on a stage, where he becomes one of the first four inductees into the school's athletic hall of fame.
You announce his name forcefully, and with flair, so the students, teachers and visiting dignitaries can't help but feel the urge to let him bask in the warm glow of a standing ovation.
Then, as he begins to speak, you watch as much as you listen.
You look at the eyes.
"Oh, he cried all right," said teacher Fred Rosenfeld, who formerly coached track and cross country at Overbrook High, and who gave the hall of fame idea its heaviest push. "I was sitting right next to him. His eyes were moist. When I saw him going, it got me going. That was some moment."
Wilton Norman Chamberlain had his number 13 retired last night by the 76ers. But first, which was only proper, he returned to Overbrook, where it all began.
The assembly program began a shade after 9 a.m. yesterday. The first three inductees to be introduced were Cliff Calvert (class of 1932), a member of Overbrook's first championship basketball team in 1931; Jackie Moore ('50), the first African-American Philadelphian to play in the NBA; and Ira Davis ('54), a three-time Olympian.
In the orange-and-black program, Chamberlain was described as "The Greatest Basketball Player of All Time."
His presenter, the Daily News's Phil Jasner, also an Overbrook grad, concluded his speech by saying, "I offer you a yardstick of excellence. From the class of 1955 and, literally, from the pages of history, I offer you Wilt Chamberlain!"
Chamberlain's first words were, "Thank you is not enough. But being here is."
Later, when he faltered briefly, he said, "I'm choked up a little bit here because my beginnings were right here at Overbrook High School . . . The three years I spent here were the best three years of my life."
Earlier, as Chamberlain and the others had waited for the assembly to begin, Wilt had confided to Jasner that the Overbrook ceremony would excite him more than the Sixers' ceremony.
Before the assembly finished, Vince Miller, Frankford's head basketball coach and Wilt's best friend since third grade (Marty Hughes, Howard Johnson and Dave Shapiro, the other '55 starters, also were there), said he had a presentation to make.
The box was big and so was the present: an Overbrook basketball jacket, black with orange sleeves. There was a basketball patch on the right front (it read "City Champs '53-'54 and '54-'55") and Wilt's name, in script on the left side, with " '55" underneath. On the back: Overbrook basketball.
"Had it made special," Miller said. "Had the guy fit me, then add four inches to the sleeves. It's a size 52. That was before I lost some weight."
Following the assembly, there was a short press conference in the principal's office. Then a walk from the front side of the second floor to the back, the location of the library. All the while, Wilt walked with TV sportscasters, as cameramen backpedaled in front, their hot lights making The Big Fella perspire profusely.
In the middle of Wilt's walk, the bell rang. The nearby classes emptied into the hallway. Every student wanted to touch him, shout his name, get a close look.
Just outside the library, Sonny Hill introduced Wilt to 6-10 sophomore Rasheed Wallace, of Simon Gratz. When Hill mentioned that he expects Wallace to become the second-best big man produced in this city, Wilt smiled and said to Wallace, "Ah, don't listen to that. Sonny's getting a little old on us. His mind is going.
"Those little guys, they never want to pass us the ball anyway. They just look at us. Then, we have to get it off the board."
Once inside the library, Wilt posed for pictures, signed autographs and subjected himself to more of the media's questions.
Ted Wexler, now a CPA but once the team's manager, approached Wilt with Overbrook's 1955 scorebook. He opened the book to the West Catholic game, in which 'Brook captured the city title.
"Before you sign this," Wexler said, "how many points did you score?"
"Thirty-five," Wilt said.
Using a black Sharpie, he then signed the book.
In time, Cecil Mosenson, 'Brook's coach in Wilt's junior and senior years, summoned the courage to approach Chamberlain and pull him aside near the back of the room. The two had a chance to speak briefly, alone, before autograph seekers again pressed forward.
In more than 30 years, the pair had exchanged very few words. They hadn't seen each other since 1976 at the Montreal Olympics.
"It was important that we spoke," said an obviously emotional Mosenson, ''and cleared the air about some misunderstandings that had occurred years ago, when Wilt was in college (at Kansas).
"It had troubled me all this time. I needed to talk to him. It's all resolved. That's all I can say. It's all resolved."
With that, Wilt and the others were off to the old gym, where they happened to walk in on a class.
Ignoring chants of "dunk one," Wilt picked up a rubber basketball and made a short bank shot. He then backed off as Moore took a shot. Quickly, he embarked on a short walk around the closet-sized gym. He seemed oblivious to the students, the cameras, everything. It was just Wilt and 1,000 memories, all flooding back at once.
When he stopped, someone suggested he autograph the mat attached to the wall behind the basket. There was even a No. 5, for gym-class purposes, painted on the mat. That was his high school number. Again, Wilt whipped out the Sharpie and signed "Wilt" - with two bold lines underneath.
No need for a last name, don't you know.
Soon, Wilton Norman Chamberlain was heading down the school's front steps, into a waiting limo.
It had been a morning to remember.
"Did you see Wilt up there, near tears?" Vince Miller asked. "I know the man. This has to be one of the greatest moments of his life."