As we saw with Harry and Meghan, royal families are often dysfunctional. Only one person gets to be King (or Queen), and everyone else has to take a step back. Wilt Chamberlain was the King of LA. He dominated the court, broke every individual record imaginable, and had a room in his house that was all waterbed and all mirrors. The sign in at the door said “The do it room.”
Just a year after he retired, a kid named Kareem came to town, and people started talking about him as possibly the greatest player ever. The throne was challenged. You’d think Wilt would be happy to pass the crown to another great center playing for the Lakers, and you would be wrong. Throughout Kareem’s entire career, Chamberlain criticized him, fighting for his position in the history books. After his retirement, Kareem wrote a book that had an open letter to Wilt. Here’s the letter in its entirety, most notable parts bolded by us. (via LA Times)
An Open Letter to Wilt Chumperlame
It’s been several years now, Wilt, that you have been criticizing my career with your friends in the press. Since this pattern does not seem to have any end in sight, I feel that I might as well have my say about the situation.
It would seem that someone who achieved as much as you did would be satisfied with his career. After all, some of the things you did in your time were quite admirable and have given us an enduring set of records for the books. So why all the jealousy and envy?
In trying to figure this out, I started to look for what you would be jealous of, and that’s when the picture started to become clear. Many remember how frustrated you were when your team couldn’t win the NCAA tournament. Your talent and abilities were so great that everyone assumed the NCAA was all yours. But after a terrific triple-overtime game, Kansas lost. You complained about the officiating, your teammates and other things, and then quit, leaving college early to tour with the Globetrotters. That seemed to set a pattern for you. After any tough test in which you didn’t do well, you blamed those around you and quit.
In professional basketball, Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics gave you a yearly lesson in real competitive competence and teamwork. All you could say was that your teammates stunk and that you had done all you could, and besides, the refs never gave you a break. Poor Wilt.
In 1967, your team finally broke through. That 76er team established records that are still standing today. But the following year, the Sixers lost and, predictable as ever, you quit. You came out to L.A. and got with a dream team. The only lack that team had was leadership at the center position. Bill and the Celts took one from you in ’69, and the Knicks followed suit in ’70. People are still trying to figure out where you disappeared to in that series. True to form, after the Knicks beat the Lakers in the world championship in 1973, you quit and haven’t been seen on the court since.
Of course, you came out every so often to take a cheap shot at me. During the sixth game of the world championship series in 1988, you stated, “Kareem should have retired five years ago.” I can now see why you said that. If I had quit at the time you suggested, it would have been right after a disappointing loss to the 76ers. And it would have been typical of one of your retreats.
But after that loss, I decided that I had more to give. I believed in myself and in the Lakers and stuck with it. We went on to win three out of four world championships between ’85 and ’88. The two teams you played on that won world championships, in ’67 and ’72, never repeated. They never showed the consistency that the Lakers of the ‘80s have shown. And you didn’t want me to be part of that.
Given your jealousy, I can understand that. So, now that I have left, one thing will be part of my legacy: People will remember that I worked with my teammates and helped us win. You will be remembered as a whining crybaby and a quitter, stats and all.