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Why do so many casual NBA fans discredit Wilt Chamberlain because he played in a “weak” era?

Honestly, I think it’s part ignorance and part denial.

First of all, since Wilt played in the 1960s and he’s no longer around to defend himself, and most of the people who watched him play are getting too old themselves, it’s very easy for the typical Gen Z / Millenial fan to point out that:

  1. Wilt played in an 8 team league
  2. Wilt’s numbers are inflated
  3. Wilt played against short white plumbers
  4. Bill Russell dominated him
  5. Shaq or whoever else would have owned that era

And all of these have a counterargument:

  1. An 8 team league would actually be more competitive, not less since more talent is concentrated in fewer teams
  2. Wilt’s numbers are not duplicated by anyone else of his era
  3. You can do some research and see that Wilt played against a guy 6′9 or taller at his position on every team, and that the average height back then was only 1″ shorter
  4. Bill Russell had a better team than Wilt did most of the time
  5. Time travel shenanigans don’t make any sense; today’s athletes benefit from the athletes that came before them. Barry Bonds would probably dominate in Babe Ruth’s era. Mike Tyson would have dominated in Muhammed Ali’s era. Wayne Gretzky would have dominated in Gordie Howe’s era. Any person with a college education today would have dominated Isaac Newton’s era. It doesn’t make any sense, and only for basketball do we discredit the older greats.

So I think it’s just ignorance for that part.

For the second part, I think it’s also denial. People see Wilt’s numbers and roll their eyes. They ignore it because Wilt’s numbers are too insane. They are video game numbers. How could someone have actually put up those numbers? That can’t be. That means that Wilt would be numbers-wise better than any other player in NBA history by a wide margin including Michael Jordan and Lebron James. The greatest of all time can’t be a guy that played 50 years ago. That’s impossible and not fun to think about. No, the greatest of all time has to be someone who played relatively recently so we can see all his footage and debate with other people who have seen him play. Wilt probably just got his numbers because everyone else sucked back then.

And thus, that’s why Wilt Chamberlain will always be IMO underrated because he was TOO dominant for his era to the point of it being too unbelievable. ESPN even left him out of their top 5 list. It’s really sad.

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Debunking NBA Myths: Did Wilt play in a ‘weak’ era?

This is one of the most common myths that perpetuate, that Wilt played in a weak era with 8 teams full of short white unathletic dudes and that’s why he dominated easily and dropped 50 a night. Well, I’m going to name a bunch of HoFers from his era, and tell you their best seasons. After all, if the league was not competitive, and full of short white dudes then guys other than Wilt shouldn’t be putting up great numbers at all right?

1960-1973 HoFer (except Wilt) best seasons:

Jack Twyman (1960) – 31.2 PPG / 8.9 RPG / 3.5 APG
Bob Cousy (1960) – 19.4 PPG / 4.7 RPG / 9.5 APG
Cliff Hagan (1960) – 24.8 PPG / 10.7 RPG / 4.0 APG
Tom Heinsohn (1960) – 21.7 PPG / 10.6 RPG / 2.3 APG
Bailey Howell (1961) – 23.6 PPG / 14.4 RPG / 2.5 APG
Elgin Baylor (1962) – 38.3 PPG / 18.6 RPG / 4.6 APG
Oscar Robertson (1962) – 30.8 PPG / 12.5 RPG / 11.4 APG
Walt Bellamy (1962) – 31.6 PPG / 19.0 RPG / 2.7 APG
Richie Guerin (1962) – 29.5 PPG / 6.4 RPG / 6.9 APG
Wayne Embry (1962) – 19.8 PPG / 13.0 RPG / 2.4 APG
Bill Russell (1962) – 18.9 PPG / 23.6 RPG / 4.5 APG
Bob Pettit (1962) – 31.1 PPG / 18.7 RPG / 3.7 APG
Jerry Lucas (1965) – 21.5 PPG / 21.1 RPG  / 2.7 APG
Sam Jones (1965) – 25.9 PPG / 5.1 RPG / 2.8 APG
Zelmo Beaty (1966) – 20.7 PPG / 13.6 RPG / 1.6 APG
Jerry West (1966)  – 31.3 PPG / 7.1 RPG / 6.1 APG
Chet Walker (1967) – 19.3 PPG / 8.1 RPG / 2.3 APG 
Rick Barry (1967) – 35.6 PPG / 9.2 RPG / 3.6 APG
Dave Bing (1968) – 27.0 PPG / 4.4 RPG / 5.0 APG
Dave Debusschere (1968) – 17.9 PPG / 13.5 RPG / 2.3 APG
Nate Thurmond (1968) – 20.5 PPG / 22.0 RPG / 4.2 APG
Hal Greer (1968) – 24.1 PPG / 5.4 RPG / 4.5 APG
Gus Johnson (1968) – 19.1 PPG / 13.0 RPG / 2.7 APG
Earl Monroe (1968) – 24.3 PPG / 5.7 RPG / 4.3 APG
Lenny Wilkens (1969) – 22.4 PPG / 6.2 RPG / 8.2 APG
Wes Unseld (1970) – 16.2 PPG / 16.7 RPG / 3.5 APG
Connie Hawkins (1970) – 24.6 PPG / 10.4 RPG / 4.8 APG
Willis Reed (1970) – 21.7 PPG / 13.9 RPG / 2.0 APG
Billy Cunningham (1970) – 26.1 PPG / 13.6 RPG / 4.3 APG
Elvin Hayes (1971) – 28.7 PPG / 16.6 RPG / 2.3 APG
Lou Hudson (1971) – 26.8 PPG / 5.1 RPG / 3.4 APG
John Havlicek (1971) – 28.9 PPG / 9.0 RPG / 7.5 APG
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972) – 34.8 PPG / 16.6 RPG / 4.6 APG
Bob Lanier (1972) – 25.7 PPG / 14.2 RPG / 3.1 APG
Walt Frazier (1972) – 23.2 PPG / 6.7 RPG / 5.8 APG
Jo Jo White (1972) – 23.1 PPG / 5.6 RPG  / 5.3 APG
Gail Goodrich (1972) – 25.3 PPG / 3.0 APG / 5.2 APG
Dave Cowens (1973) – 20.5 PPG / 16.2 RPG / 4.1 APG
Spencer Haywood (1973) – 29.2 PPG / 12.9 RPG / 2.5 APG
Pete Maravich (1973) – 26.1 PPG / 4.4 RPG / 6.9 APG
Tiny Archibald (1973) – 34.0 PPG / 2.8 RPG / 11.4 APG

If you look at those numbers, you can tell that Wilt definitely was playing in a league full of some pretty talented guys, not just ‘short white unathletic dudes’ as casual fans just assume. And yet, Wilt outscored and out-rebounded them all. 

We all know Wilt’s best season but here it is – truly video game numbers – 50.4 PPG / 25.7 RPG / 2.4 APG on 50.6% shooting. Nobody since has ever averaged more than 37 pts in a season (Michael Jordan in 1987). Rebounding wise no one has even come close to Wilt’s career average in rebounding (22.9 RPG). In addition, no one has ever come close to the minutes Wilt played in that season either at 48.5MPG – that’s every second of every game including overtimes. 

I’ll give you Wilt’s worst season for comparison – his last season when he was 36 years old in 1973 – still averaged 13.2 PPG / 18.6 RPG / 4.5 APG, 72.7% FG% and went to the Finals that year. Think about that – in his last and worst season – he still led the league in rebounding with an average that was only ever equaled once since (Dennis Rodman in 1992), averaged 4.5 assists a game for a center, then had the NBA’s highest FG% in a season ever.

And yet, despite all this, many fans and analysts do not put Wilt in their top 5. This is a case where Wilt’s numbers worked against him in that he was so dominant that people just automatically assumed his peers were all nobodies.

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Which pre-1980 NBA player would be the most likely to make an All-Star game in today’s era?

The players most likely to have a game that will translate well into today’s NBA..

Wilt Chamberlain – because he was basically Shaq with better defense and thus could dominate probably anyone today

Bill Russell / Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – well we KNOW Kareem can play in the 80s because he did and was an all star up until he retired. Russell on the other hand I think might not get his rebounding numbers but his basketball IQ and defense would definitely be invaluable in any era. He would definitely have to be more of a Dennis Rodman / Ben Wallace / Dikembe Mutombo type defense specialist though because Russell was not a great shooter or scorer

Oscar Robertson – Think Russell Westbrook…

Jerry West / Pete Maravich – could be 3 point elite shooters today

Rick Barry / John Havlicek – versatile wingmen that could be great point forwards much the same way Lebron is today

Julius Erving / David Thompson / Elgin Baylor / Connie Hawkins – Michael Jordan / Kobe Bryant type above the rim players

Wes Unseld / Dave Cowens / Bill Walton – I thought about this alot. These guys are basically the spiritual successors to Bill Russell (basketball IQ wise, minus the defense) but in terms of rebounding and passing ability, they are comparable to Russell. While their rebounding numbers probably won’t be as good today, I think they would be formidable passing centers much like Joakim Noah was that one 2014 season.

Bob Pettit / Hal Greer / George Gervin / Bob McAdoo / Dave Bing / Dan Issel  – they had sweet jumpers and their fundamentals were great. I think they would definitely have to develop a 3 point shot, and I don’t think it would be a problem for them although it wouldn’t come as easily as it would to a Pistol Pete or Jerry West.

Bob Cousy / Walt Frazier / Tiny Archibald – because great point guards in any era would probably thrive in today’s point guard oriented league today

Jerry Lucas / Nate Thurmond / Mel Daniels – rebounding specialists that would be probably play a little farther away from the basket these days, but would still be effective