The debate surrounding sport’s unbreakable records always provides a fascinating microcosmic insight into the nature of competition at the highest level. Today marks the anniversary of perhaps one of the most enduring statistics in the world of professional sport: Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game.
To speculate on the nature of sporting records, we must first divide them into one of the following categories: the individual or the team. If considering specifically individual records, then most can be seen as feats of endurance, speed and athleticism, trophy-winning or scoring.
Athletes compete to be the best, measurably, in their discipline. The most consistent, most successful, or to accumulate the most of whatever it is that makes one victorious in his or her sport.
To illustrate, many see Cal Ripken Jr’s streak of 2,632 consecutive MLB games as a statistic that will never be bettered – a remarkable feat of individual endurance. Mike Powell’s long jump world record – at 8.95 metres – has stood for nearly 27 years, whilst Galina Chistyakova has held the women’s record for 30. Bill Russell won 11 NBA Championships – only those in the same Boston Celtics team of the 1960s come close, whilst the nearest active players are Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker, each with four.
What separates these from gargantuan feats of scoring is longevity, in cases of endurance and trophy-winning, and the natural progression of sport, in tests of athleticism and speed.
Granted, Usain Bolt’s 100m record was run in only 9.58 seconds, but as technology and training methods continue to improve, athletes will inevitably begin to challenge, and eventually beat his time.
Streaks of endurance, such as Ripken’s – unlikely to be beaten any time soon due to bigger squad rosters and increasing lineup rotation – are, fundamentally, impossible to appreciate at the time due to their inherent longevity.
The same applies to a trophy-winning record: it is an accumulative process that can be celebrated only at the end of a career.
The prospect of the ‘unbreakable’ scoring record, however, is arguably the most instantly tantalising.
This is because they are often achieved in a short space of time – either over a season or, in Chamberlain’s case, a single game – and are therefore easily digestible.
But it is also because these records tend to occur randomly: they are not affected by the natural progression of sport, and there is therefore no sense of creeping inevitability to taint the feat.
Chamberlain scored 100-points for the Philadelphia Warriors against the New York Knicks on March 2nd 1962. No player has really come close to that in the 56 intervening years (second on the list is Kobe Bryant, who famously dropped 81 against Toronto Raptors).
But, looking at the top 20 individual scores in NBA games, the dates are scattered – ignoring the fact that Chamberlain himself occupies six of the top ten spots.
Kobe’s 81 was in 2006, whilst David Thompson scored 73 against the Detroit Pistons in 1978 and David Robinson notched 71 against the LA Clippers in 1994. The latest man to come even remotely close was Devin Booker last March, but he was 30 points short as he recorded 70 against the Celtics.
Chamberlain’s dominance of the scoring charts just serves to highlight the fact that the man was simply a points machine. Only 25 players have scored more than 60 points in an NBA game, only four of them have done so on multiple occasions. Chamberlain has done it 32 times.
Whilst some would argue that the game has since changed, defences have improved, and the context of the 100-point game itself – it was by no means a vintage Knicks side, and was depleted by injury to-boot – somewhat diminishes the achievement. His consistently ridiculous numbers go to show that, whilst a crazy total, it wasn’t necessarily completely unprecedented for Wilt.
So whilst we must acknowledge the amazing achievements of Usain Bolt as his world records remain, and the fact that Cal Ripken Jr’s streak may never be beaten, Wilt’s 100-points are, to this day, as tantalising as they seem unsurpassable.
To finish, on a quote from the man himself: “‘We’re all fascinated by the numbers, as we were about the 100 points.”