Philadelphia News & Search
By Kevin Callahan
Early in March, the proud nephew of Wilt Chamberlain honors his legendary uncle on the day of the Big Dipper’s larger-than-life feat, just like Oliver Chamberlain has done dutifully every year since he was a young man.
“I can’t believe it has been 55 years,” Oliver Chamberlain said about the anniversary when “Uncle Dippy” scored an unheard of and unmatched 100 points in a game.
“I celebrate it every year,” he added recently about Wilt Chamberlain scoring triple digits on March 2, 1962 as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors in Hershey, Pa. in a win over the Knicks. “Every year, growing up, my dad would talk about it.
“When my uncle scored 100 points, my dad was on his way to San Antonio for basic training for the Air Force. So he would tell me that story every year, too.”
Oliver Chamberlain, 43, tells his own children now about The Dipper, who he affectionately still calls Uncle Dippy. Wilt passed away in 1999 at the age of 63.
“It was cool and interesting to learn about my great uncle, how he shot for 100 points and all that,” said Oliver Chamberlain’s 10-year-old daughter, Kaylee.
Oliver Chamberlain’s father, Oliver Sr. was Wilt’s brother and the youngest of Olivia and William Chamberlain’s nine children. The siblings grew up on 60th street, just around the block from Overbrook High School where the legend of Wilt expanded from the streets of West Philadelphia to the world.
Oliver’s father passed away in 2003. Only two of Wilt’s sisters are alive – Selina Gross, who was married to Claude Gross, a Philadelphia basketball icon himself who recently passed away, and Barbara Lewis.
Selina Gross still lives in Philadelphia while Lewis lives in Las Vegas. Claude Gross made a name for himself first as a player at Ben Franklin High School and later as a coach and mentor to Philly players like Geoff Arnold, an assistant coach at Saint Joseph’s University, and La Salle legend Lionel Simmons.
“My uncle Claude’s claim to fame was he beat my uncle in 1953,” recalled Oliver Chamberlain, who lives in Drexel Hill and is an independent insurance broker,
Oliver Chamberlain, who grew up in Los Angeles, was born in May of 1973. His uncle Wilt retired from the Lakers a month later, a year after the 13-time NBA all-star and four-time league MVP won the world championship with the Lakers when he was named The Finals MVP.
“The only time I saw him play live was when he was with a team that was supposed to be a Harlem Globetrotter spinoff called the Bucketeers, I think Meadowlark Lemon was with him too,” Chamberlain reflected while standing on the steps of Overbrook High School recently. “That was the only time I saw him play live.”
The younger Chamberlain started to learn of the legend of his 7-foot-1 uncle at “five or six when my Dad took us to Lakers games.
“I remember him telling me one time when he pointed out that my uncle’s number was in the rafters,” Chamberlain reflected, “he said, ‘see that No. 13 up there, that’s your uncle.’
“I had met my uncle a couple of times, but I was young. When I went to the Forum that day and saw his number in the rafters, that’s when I realized, ‘wow’ I have a famous uncle.”
Oliver Chamberlain, who stands an impressive 6-foot-5 himself, averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds a game at Diamond Bar High School outside Los Angeles.
“I used to be able to jump out of the gym, in high school I blocked 13 shots in one game,” Chamberlain said proudly. “It was a playoff game. It’s still a record.
“I wasn’t a star, but I had a great experience.”
Interestingly, he was a teammate of future 76ers forward Keith Van Horn, who was selected by the Sixers with the second pick of the 1997 draft but was traded on draft night to the Nets. Van Horn was traded back to the 76ers and played the 2002-2003 season in Philadelphia.
“I was pretty good in high school so people would talk about it and when they did write ups, they would always mention it,” he added about being Wilt’s nephew.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at all, obviously people talked about it because it was a story,” Chamberlain continued. “But nobody expected me to be like him. You can’t be like him.
“I was like if you want me to be like Wilt Chamberlain, you are going to be in for the biggest disappointment in your life.”
Oliver Chamberlain originally was recruited to play at Clarion State, a Division II program outside of Pittsburgh.
“John Calipari went there,” Chamberlain said. “I was only there about a year.”
He then transferred and played two seasons at Philadelphia Community College and won the Pennsylvania Collegiate Athletic Association (PCAA) state championship.
“Claude actually sent me to CCP, we had a really good year, we won the state championship there in 1994,” Chamberlain said. “Ollie Johnson (who played at Temple and with the 76ers from 1980-1982) was actually the associate athletic director at that time.”
Chamberlain then played one season at West Chester for coach Dick Delaney.
“We played in the NCAA Division II national tournament in 1995,” Chamberlain said.
“One of the things that was funny, especially playing in college, my coaches would rib me, ‘I wish you played like Wilt Chamberlain,’ and my response would be, “if I did, I wouldn’t be here,’ “ Oliver said with a laugh.
Oliver said growing up in California he was often asked if he was related to Wilt. Naturally, he still is asked.
“I got it a lot when I was there, but I got it a lot more when I came to Philadelphia,” Chamberlain said. “When I came to Philadelphia and this being my family’s home town and his hometown specifically, whenever they saw a tall black guy named Chamberlain, they ask ‘any relation?’
“And a lot of times they are asking jokingly, but when I tell them yeah, it kind of shocks them.”
Wilt’s career statistics grow even more shocking every year, especially trying to grasp how even the NBA’s seven-time scoring champion and 11-time rebounding leaderaveraged 50.4 points and 25.7 rebounds a game in 1962.
“He was bigger than life,” Oliver said. “Even after he was done playing, he kept himself relevant, he was always at different Los Angeles social events and obviously someone as big and as athletic as he was, he was a natural for commercials and movies.”
As a kid, Oliver hung out at Wilt Chamberlain’s famed mountain top Bel Air home.
“I miss that house, ” he said. “That was a beautiful house. He had a retractable roof in his bed room.”
In 1967, Wilt brought home to Philadelphia something no one can retract – the 76ers’ first NBA championship.
“Nobody was supposed to beat Boston, they had won eight championships in a row, they had I think six Hall of Famers on the team, so in my opinion, that was probably a bigger accomplishment than winning the championship, beating Boston,” Chamberlain said about the Eastern Conference series win before beating the Warriors for the NBA title.
“They had a great team. They had Billy Cunningham and he was the sixth man, they had Hal Greer and Luke Jackson, and he was a bruiser inside, it was an unbelievable team, and they had Chet Walker.”
And they had shooting guard Wali Jones, who led the 76ers with scored 27 points in the championship clinching game and also who played at Overbook High.
“I was in the gym here once and just looked around,” Oliver said, “they have a banner or something up, it was small, my aunts have pictures.”
Wilt led Overbrook to a 56-3 record and two City Championship. He scored 2,252 points (37.4 average) for the Panthers to break Tom Gola’s schoolboy scoring record.
“Every time I pass this place I just look at it and say ‘wow,’ ” Chamberlain said, still standing on the steps of Overbrook with his daughter. “Its like I’m a fan myself, I am, I drive past here and we drive by and say this is where your uncle played.”
Oliver Chamberlain said he and his brother, Olin, possess some “small things” as memorabilia.
“I actually took my kids on a tour of Hershey Park Arena, it was in 2012 for the 50thanniversary, we went on a private tour,” said Oliver, who also has daughters Jasmine, 19, and Olivia, 12, in addition to Kaylee. “We went into the locker rooms, it was pretty amazing.
“It was funny because so many people have told me they were there when he scored 1,000 points. Everybody wants to be a part of it because it is such a historical moment.
“We got a chance to talk to Harvey Pollack, we met him a few years back.”
His daughter, Kaylee, a fifth grader at Primos Elementary School in Upper Darby, told her amazed friends about the trip to Hershey.
“It’s cool to have someone in my family famous in basketball because I play basketball too and I love it,” Kaylee said. “So it kind of encourages me to try my best in basketball.
“A lot of people in my school, when I tell them, they are like, ‘what, hold up, wait.’ “
Indeed, Kaylee is keeping alive the feats of her great uncle, too.
Oliver Chamberlain appreciates how the 76ers organization still embraces his famous and beloved family.
“They are great, at least twice a year we go to something honoring Uncle Dippy,” he smiled.
And, of course, Oliver Chamberlain celebrates his uncle privately on March 2 every year.
Philadelphia News & Search