Ceremony may help heal Chamberlain-76ers rift


It has taken nearly 10 years of negotiations marked by unmasked bitterness, but Wilt Chamberlain, Philadelphia's most legendary basketball player, finally will return home March 16 to have his 76ers uniform officially retired.

In 1981, when Harold Katz gained control of the 76ers, one of his first priorities was trying to coax Chamberlain, who was first a legend at Overbrook High School, out of retirement.

Never mind that "Wilt the Stilt," who averaged 30.1 points and 23 rebounds over 14 seasons, had not played officially in eight years. Katz apparently felt the 7-foot-1 center, at 44, still could outplay most National Basketball Association centers for 15 to 20 minutes a game.

Talks between Chamberlain and Katz lasted 10 days before Chamberlain declined the invitation. Sources said Chamberlain still was bitter that the promise of part ownership of the 76ers had not been fulfilled.

Ike Richman reportedly had made the promise to Chamberlain, but died before the deal was consummated. Irv Kosloff gained majority control and never welcomed Chamberlain as a partner.

Washington Bullets general manager John Nash, who had worked in a similar capacity for the 76ers, said the team had been embarrassed by Chamberlain's intransigence.

"I was always having to explain to 76ers fans how we could retire Bobby Jones' number and not Chamberlain's," Nash said. "I know it didn't make sense, but it wasn't that we didn't try to do I even once told Wilt, 'We might have to retire your uniform with or without your blessing.' "

Chamberlain now says he likes the idea. "I think I've been remiss in not doing this sooner," he said. "I do, indeed, think it's an extreme privilege."

* Gag rule: The sniping and finger-pointing among the struggling New York Knicks has gotten so ugly that general manager Al Bianchi issued a stop order last week after another home loss, to the Indiana Pacers. Bianchi told the players, "Shut up and play!"

Most of the anonymous criticism was aimed at center and team cornerstone Patrick Ewing, suggesting all the offense was designed to get him the ball. Ewing responded by demanding his accusers confront him in person.

"Don't go to the press and say, 'Patrick is getting too many shots.' Say it to my face," said Ewing. "Or let them ask management to trade me. Then we'll see who goes and who stays."

Some Knicks made their gripes public. Power forward Charles Oakley, once untouchable but now rumored to be trade bait, said: "We should be winning. We have a dominant center. There's no excuse."

Reserve forward Kenny Walker said: "Time is beginning to run out. If we're going to make the playoffs, we have to beat the good teams. But the way we're playing now, we'd pack it in early even if there is a playoff for us."

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