MVP Voting: Two 2nd place finishes, one 3rd place finish, two 4th place finishes, one 5th place finish
NBA Championships: 2
All-NBA First Team: 7
All-NBA Second Team: 3
7 Scoring Titles, 11 Rebounding Titles, 1 Assists Title
Recently, Jordan's become the de facto choice for number 1. Most casual fans immediately proclaim MJ to be the greatest player of all time. Others allege that Wilt is the greatest of all time, but for the wrong reasons. I'll try to be as objective and impartial as possible in my analysis of why I consider Wilt to be better than Jordan, Russell, Abdul-Jabbar, and everyone else.
Wilt's put up the most dominating, and perhaps the most untouchable statistics in not only NBA history, but perhaps professional sports history. His rebounding numbers will never be surpassed.
Most Career Rebounds
1. Wilt Chamberlain- 23924
2. Bill Russell- 21620
3. Moses Malone- 17834
Chamberlain beats out Russell by over 2000 rebounds, and Malone by over 6000 rebounds. Incredible. Granted, there were a lot more opportunities to grab rebounds, but Chamberlain still beat out his contemporaries consistently. The only man capable of matching Wilt rebound for rebound was Russell, yet Russell only won 4 rebounding titles to Chamberlain's 10. Other than Russell though, Chamberlain towered over the competition.
Note: I chose 1959-1969 for the upcoming comparison because it encompasses the time Russell and Chamberlain had overlapping careers
1959-1969 Rebounding Leaders:
Wilt Chamberlain: 19112 Rebounds
Bill Russell: 17501 Rebounds
Walt Bellamy: 9786 Rebounds
Other than Russell and Wilt, nobody had over ten thousand rebounds for the entire decade. Wilt crushed his competition. His edge over Russel in Career RPG (22.9 to 22.5), and Rebounding title (10 to 4), give Wilt the edge over Russell. Simply put, Wilt is the best rebounder of all time.
Of course, any discussion about Wilt is incomplete without looking at his multiple failures in the postseason.
In Chamberlain's first 10 playoff appearances, he was thwarted by Russell's Celtics in the playoffs 7 times. At the tail end of his career, while with the Lakers, Wilt lost to Reed's Knicks, and Abdul Jabbar's Bucks.
Russell did have a better supporting cast than Chamberlain nearly every year. Cousy, Havlicek, Sam Jones, and Bill Sharman are all names I will throw around while making this list. Still, Chamberlain did play with an outstanding group of players throughout his entire career (Baylor, West, Greer). In their head to head matchups, Chamberlain wasn't hampered by Russell all that much (28.7 PPG). However, Chamberlain's teammates didn't show up in the postseason, and that's costed him a couple of rings.
1961 Eastern Conference Finals: Despite averaging 35 points a game, and grabbing over 26 rebounds in the playoffs, Wilt lost in Game 7 to the Celtics. None of his temmates shot over 40% throughout the playoffs
1965 Eastern Conference Finals: Wilt loses a Game 7 to the Celtics once more while hanging up 27 PPG, and 20 RPG. That year, the Celtics just had the better team. Wilt was traded to the 76ers halfway through the season, and didn't have much besides Hal Greer. The Celtics on the other hand, had Sam Jones, Havlicek, Heinsohn, and of course, Russell.
1968 Eastern Conference Finals: At one point, Philly was up 3-1 in the series, but the Celtics came back to win. Was it Chamberlain's fault?
In Game 7 of that series, Chamberlain only took 1 shot in the second half. That said, after the Celtics team collapsed on Chamberlain he did kick it out to Greer and Guokas (who replaced the injured Billy Cunningham). How did they respond? Greer went 8 for 25, and Guokas hit 2 of 10 shots. As a scorer, Wilt was limited in Game 7, but his teammates simply couldn't hit open shots. The 76ers lost narrowly, 100-96.
1969 NBA Finals: This year, Chamberlain had the better team (was on the Lakers with Baylor and West). He had lured Russell and the Celtics away from the Boston Garden, which had been the scene of numerous Celtics Game 7 victories. The stars had finally aligned for Chamberlain.
With just 5 minutes left in the game, and the Lakers trailing 9 points, Chamberlain hurt his knee, and was forced to go to the bench. With 3 minutes to go, and a lead that was down to just one point, Chamberlain told his coach, Van Breda Colff that he was ready to head back in. Yet, Kolff refused to put him back in. Don Nelson of the Celtics hit an improbable shot that bounced off the back iron a few feet into the air, and swished back through. Ultimately, the Lakers lost by 2, even though Jerry West had an incredible Game 7 perfromance (42 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists).
Why did Colff leave Chamberlain out? According to Chamberlain, Colff had told him "We're doing better without you." Considering the Lakers trimmed the lead from 9 to 1, while Chamberlain was out, Colff was technically right, I don't think that there's a coach in the league today, that would have left Chamberlain on the bench. The man was just one season removed from an MVP for Christ's sake. Chamberlain, finally had teammates that came through in the clutch- but he was limited by Colff's coaching maneuver.
Chamberlain's 2 NBA titles look like nothing compared to Jordan's 6, and Russell's 11, but with at least mediocre play from some teammates, and a competent coach in 1969, he could've ended up with 6. It's a strech, but it is a somewhat realistic one. Chamberlain might not have stepped his game up in the playoffs like Reggie Miller, or Jordan, but he was still great in them, and just limited by his teammates.
Why is Chamberlain better than Jordan and everyone else?
I've shown that Chamberlain's the best rebounder of all time, and isn't to blame for each of his teams' performance in the playoffs. Still, that alone can't seperate him from Jordan who averaged more points per game, won more MVPs, and was on more All-NBA first teams.
A cursory glance at his scoring numbers makes it seem as if Jordan was the better scorer throughout his career.
Wilt: 30.07 PPG
Jordan: 30.12 PPG
Jordan: 10 scoring titles
Chamberlain: 7 Scoring titles
Still with closer examination, it become apparent that Wilt was the better scorer. In his very first season in the NBA, Wilt averaged 37.6 PPG, breaking Pettit's record of 29.2. Chamberlain didn't just break the record, he demolished it, as he beat it by close to 30 percent. There's no realistic sports analogy to that.
Most PPG in a single season
1. 50.4 Wilt Chamberlain
2. 44.8 Wilt Chamberlain
3. 38.4 Wilt Chamberlain
4. 38.3 Elgin Baylor
5. 37.6 Wilt Chamberlain
6. 37.1 Michael Jordan
7. 36.9 Wilt Chamberlain
Maybe Jordan was a more consistent scorer than Chamberlain throughout his career, but at Chamberlain's peak, he was not just a better scorer than Jordan, he was a much better scorer.
Some say Wilt's scoring numbers are greatly exaggerated because he played in the highest scoring era. While it's true that he played in the highest scoring time period in NBA history, he still wiped the floor with his peers. In Wilt's 50 PPG season, Elgin Baylor was closest was 38.3 PPG. He was heads over the rest of the competition.
Wilt wasn't limited to being a scorer and rebounder though. During Jordan's career, Jordan was considered to be the best defender in the league. Russell, obviously, was better defensively than Chamberlain throughout their careers, BUT, as soon as Russell retired, Chamberlain was first team all defense. Had blocks been tracked in the 60's and 70's, Chamberlain would probably stand behind Russell, and Russell alone. Jordan may have been the greatest defensive player in the league during his tenure, but Chamberlain was 2nd best.
Interestingly, Jordan averaged only one assist per game more than Chamberlain throughout his career. Chamberlain has the record for most assists in a game by a center, and finished among the top 3 in assists twice.
Chamberlain may not have been the best defensive player ever, or the most clutch player ever, but it's hard to ignore the statistics.