Measuring Up to Wilt Chamberlain May Take More Than Stats

When Luka Doncic, Dallas’s 6-foot-7 do-everything Slovenian import, strafed the Knicks for 60 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists in a comeback overtime victory late last month, commentators breathlessly noted that no one, not even Wilt, had ever posted such a line.

Walt Frazier, the Hall of Fame guard who broadcasts Knicks games and once shared a backcourt with Garrett at Southern Illinois, has an idea why.

“What you mostly see now are guys running up and down, dunking on people,” he said in a telephone interview. “Only a few teams buckle down on defense. They don’t double-team when someone goes off. When someone came in and dropped 40 on me, it was always, ‘Clyde got destroyed.’ Now Doncic scores 60 and no one even says who was guarding him.”

Frazier, 77, was echoing recent laments on the state of the sport from the old-school coaches Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr. It’s no surprise that appreciation, or lack thereof, for the contemporary N.B.A. would break down along generational lines. For those who played with or against Chamberlain, he is basketball’s Babe Ruth, the game’s all-time goliath. Everyone has a tale, perhaps on the tall side, to tell.

Billy Cunningham, 79, a Hall of Famer and Chamberlain’s teammate with the Philadelphia 76ers, cited the night Gus Johnson, a very strong forward for the Baltimore Bullets, went at Wilt with every intention of dunking over him as he’d done earlier in the game.

Chamberlain didn’t just block the shot, Cunningham said: “He actually caught the ball, and while Gus went to the floor, he just stood there holding it over his head.”

However grainy the video, however dorky the short shorts, do not try to convince Cunningham and company that what Chamberlain achieved was the result of an ancient, inferior era. They will remind you that he averaged 45.8 minutes per game for his career and seldom sat one out, in stark contrast to the more coddled modern star — who, in fairness, represents a far greater financial investment to protect.

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