Jordan vs. Chamberlain

by Matthew Tulli

In spite of the NBA Playoffs starting, I am debating who is the best basketball player to ever play the game. Over the past decade, there has been much debate over who is the best basketball player to ever play. More recently, LeBron James, arguably the best basketball player at the moment, proclaimed the four people on his NBA “Mount Rushmore,” or who he thinks are the four best players of all time.

For the best player of all time, the majority of people will say Michael Jordan, some will say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, some will say Magic Johnson, and some will say Larry Bird, as well as a few others. But in my mind the best basketball player to ever play was Wilt Chamberlain. Chamberlain holds an astounding 71 NBA records, 63 of which are individual records. Luckily, my friend and basketball fanatic Alex Krahulik is here to debate this. He believes that Michael Jordan is the best player of all time.

Alex: So Wilt put up some big stats, but lets also look at the time period he played in. Rebounds were no big deal at the time. There were many other players that put up rebounding numbers on a night to night basis that would make them the best in the league right now with no competition. That’s because back in Wilt’s era they took way more shots per game. They shot so much that in the 14 years that Wilt played, only one team ever shot over 50%. Usually only four players in the entire league would shoot over 50% every year. So his rebounding numbers aren’t as spectacular as they may seem.

Matt: Wilt also played Bill Russell, one of the top centers of all time, 12 times in his incredible 1961-1962 season. Now, Boston and Philadelphia only play each other four times per season. Also, rebounds may not have been a big deal, he averaged 27.2 rebounds in his second season. Also, he pulled down 55 rebounds against Bill Russell. There’s no doubt the rebounds were less impressive back then, but there’s no denying that he was the best rebounder of all time.

Alex: Wilt had many hall of famers in his era, but a very small number of them were guards. The game was almost completely dominated by big men, meaning that he would get the ball almost every time on offense just for the sake of he was big. While Chamberlain played against some of the greatest big men to ever play basketball, he also had more support too, and didn’t have nearly as much success as MJ. He played with a total of eight HOF players: Tom Gola, Paul Arizin, Nate Thurmond, Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Gail Goodrich. And yet with his dominance and their help, he went 2-5 in the finals.
Wilt played poorly in the playoffs. All of his statistical numbers dropped in the postseason and he only snagged the trophy 2 out of the 7 chances he got at it.

Matt: Well thanks for proving my point by saying “the game was dominated by big men.” Can you imagine a Wilt Chamberlain going up against some of the centers of today? It was rare if Chamberlain played against a bad center, since there were only nine teams. The talent of players had to be better if they wanted to make it to the NBA.
Also, Wilt only played with his Tom Gola and Paul Arizin for three seasons and two seasons, respectively. He played with Elgin Baylor for three seasons and Jerry West for four seasons, and he won a championship in one of those seasons, as well. Yes, he played with many great players, but those stats are a little bit inflated.

Alex: I can see where you come from. I guess the Hall of Fame stats were a little bit inflated but Wilt still had many opportunities with great teams, but didn’t convert. Now let’s turn it over to Michael Jeffrey Jordan, the greatest player of all time. Your turn to start.

Matt: There’s no denying that Michael Jordan was an incredible player. I call him the second best of all time, and here’s why. Jordan played in a time period that was easier to win championships. When Jordan played in the late 80’s and 90’s, there were twenty-seven teams. That’s three times the players as there were when Wilt had the best single-season ever. It was easier for MJ to score because he was constantly playing against average players. Wilt had to play against the other eight best centers that were in the league at the time.

Alex: Wilt had some absolutely amazing centers to play against, but there were also some amazing guards MJ had to play against, like Gary Payton, Clyde Drexler, and Reggie Miller. Wilt lived in an era that revolved around big men, so he got more touches and therefore extreme stats. MJ put up some extremely impressive statistics with fewer opportunities to make plays than Wilt had. Also, MJ, unlike Wilt, only played with two hall of famers his whole career but had great success. His regular season numbers were amazing, and his postseason even more impressive. MJ averaged 33 ppg in the postseason for his entire career, more than anybody ever (Wilt dropped to 27 a game during playoff time). He also reached the finals 6 times, and every time he converted. He didn’t back down from the pressure like Wilt did to Bill Russell and others.

Matt (closing argument): Wilt led the league in assists in 1972 as a center, while also shooting an insane 68% from the floor while shooting 14 times a game. Leading the league in assists is an incredible feat, especially as a center. This is something that MJ never did, even though there was only one team ever shot over 50% over Wilt’s entire career. Longtime 76ers statistician Harvey Pollack said that one game he kept track of blocked shots, and he recorded 26 blocked shots for Wilt. Wilt could literally do anything he wanted to on the basketball court, and all of these reasons are why Wilt was the best player to ever play.

Alex (closing argument): Michael Jordan was the greatest player of all time because he played in an era far beyond the era that Chamberlain played in. Players were better shooters, they were more athletic, and they were just overall better basketball teams. MJ also played much better in the clutch, winning all six of his NBA Finals appearances. He also won back-to-back-to-back championships on two separate occasions with a worse supporting cast than Wilt had. Lastly, MJ had less opportunities to put up stats than Chamberlain did. Wilt took 39 shots per game when he scored 50 points. The game was run through big men, and Wilt did basically everything for his teams. Sorry Matt, but Michael Jordan was a far superior all-around basketball player than Chamberlain.