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:
- Wilt played in an 8 team league
- Wilt’s numbers are inflated
- Wilt played against short white plumbers
- Bill Russell dominated him
- Shaq or whoever else would have owned that era
And all of these have a counterargument:
- An 8 team league would actually be more competitive, not less since more talent is concentrated in fewer teams
- Wilt’s numbers are not duplicated by anyone else of his era
- 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
- Bill Russell had a better team than Wilt did most of the time
- 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.