Chamberlain's 1996 book overlooked by media


AFTER RUMMAGING through five bookcases with about 15 shelves, I still can't find it. Where is it? Where is my autobiography of Wilt Chamberlain?

Murphy's law -- the one that says anything that can go wrong will -- and all its corollaries and contrapositives are in effect here. I've found "Bill Walton" by author Jack Scott, stumbled on "Giant Steps" by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Peter Knobler. I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw "Second Wind" by Bill Russell with Baltimore's own Taylor Branch buried in the third row of one shelf.

My passion for pro basketball's great pivotmen led me to buy all three books. I had also bought one called "Wilt" -- Chamberlain's autobiography -- and now, after learning that he had died of congestive heart failure last week, it's the one book I can't find.

I read Chamberlain's obits with disgust. All the things about his playing and his records were in there, along with the claim in his autobiography that he had made love to 20,000 women -- as if basketball and promiscuous sex were all there were to Wilt. But I had read the autobiography. I had seen him several times in recent years, thanks to ESPN's Sports Classics station. Now he was dead and here was the clueless media focused not on what was in his mind, but his private parts.

Not one obit mentioned Chamberlain's 1996 book "Who's Running the Asylum?" in which The Stilt charged that professional sports -- from greedy owners and players to obnoxious and rowdy fans -- are completely out of control. You would have thought the book and Chamberlain's observation would be worth at least a mention along with the reference to the big guy's sex life. But sometimes -- in fact, all too often -- we media folks just don't get it.

One of us who does get it is Butch "Coach" McAdams -- an evening talk-show host on WOL in Washington and WOLB in Baltimore. McAdams put Chamberlain's quote about his alleged sexual prowess in perspective.

"I believe Wilt was hurting inside because he felt he never got his just recognition -- that he got all the rebounds and scored all the points because he was just big," McAdams said. "I believe he said it because he was hurting inside and just wanted to stay in the spotlight." Chamberlain resented the fact that guys like Russell and Abdul-Jabbar were considered better centers. The Coach said folks who feel that way are dead wrong.

"Wilt Chamberlain, for my money, was one of the dominant, if not the most dominant, player ever," McAdams asserted. "Here's a man that played in 47 straight complete basketball games. He never fouled out of a game. He led the league in assists. If he were 6-7 or 6-8, he would have been just as good."

McAdams said Chamberlain was also on the mark about the pathetic state of affairs in professional sports.

"Look at what happened with Latrell Sprewell," McAdams observed, referring to the New York Knicks guard who missed training camp and didn't even bother to call his bosses. "Years ago that wouldn't have happened -- a guy missing a week of training camp."

Chamberlain, in an ESPN Classic interview rebroadcast last week, urged sports owners to devote at least one game a season to the common man. Owners, Chamberlain urged, should cut prices and allow seating on a first-come, first-served basis so that Joe Average with an average salary would have a shot at the seats normally occupied by the affluent. McAdams said that once again, The Stilt hit the nail on the head.

"It's a corporate game now," McAdams noted. "Today you can't afford a ticket. When I was a boy, my father, my older brother and I would say, 'Let's go to a Yankees game' or 'Let's go to an Orioles game.' Today, Joe Fan can't afford to go to the game. I think the prices are certainly out of control. I would certainly agree with Wilt on that. Sports needs a lot of reform. But you won't see it."

Of course we won't -- not with a media more obsessed with pointing out a man's incredible claim of having sex with 20,000 women than with his cogent observation that something is terribly wrong with our fixation on pro sports. Owners of pro teams milk fans of one city and then head to another at the slightest hint that taxpayers will foot the bill for a new stadium. Pro athletes like Sprewell consider themselves above the rules. And clueless fans continue to subsidize these characters.

"Who's running this asylum?" Chamberlain asked us before he died. When his obituary ran last week it was obvious it was a question the media cared not to answer.

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