Most basketball players obey the rules. Wilt Chamberlain, one of the most dominant forces the game has ever seen, changed them.
Chamberlain-prompted rule changes
During his all-time great basketball career, Wilt’s dominance forced the league to make adjustments in an attempt to create a level playing field for others. As a result, offensive goaltending was instituted to prevent Chamberlain and others from interfering with the ball in the cylinder above the rim. The league also widened the lane area just over a decade after they did the same to try to diminish George Mikan’s inside dominance. But Wilt took it to a different level.
In 1951, the NBA widened the lane from 6 feet to 12 feet. Thirteen years later, going into Chamberlain’s sixth NBA season — he averaged 41.7 points and 25.3 rebounds up until that point — the league decided the lane still wasn’t wide enough. So to help others contain Wilt, they expanded it to 16 feet. Still, the rule changes he forced while in college are even more impressive, and Tex Winter, the innovator of the triangle offense, witnessed it firsthand.
Tex Winter on Wilt changing the rules
There are so many fascinating things about Chamberlain. But perhaps the most fascinating one is how he shot his free throws. Winters, who went to Kansas to scout the big man, talked about it in an interview with BBallBreakdown.
To this day people don’t believe it. He wasn’t at the top of the circle but he was about three steps behind it. He ran to the free-throw line, took off, and dunked the ball.Tex Winter, BBallBreakdown: History of Basketball
“In the rules at that time you could,” Winters said. “I think I could’ve been very instrumental because I was Chairman of the Basketball Rules Recommendation Committee and I explained to the coaches at the convention what I saw and said that something’s going to have to be done so we don’t have guys who can dunk the ball from the free-throw line.”
The NCAA and the NBA would hear about it and take notice, introducing a few rules regarding free throws. Both feet would have to be planted behind the line when shooting a free throw and stay there until the ball hits the rim. But that’s not the only rule change Wilt triggered while at the University of Kansas.
They had an out-of-bounds play where they threw it over the backboard and he just was right in front of basket and he just went up and stuffed it. So I told the coaches at the convention, I said, ‘I don’t know about you coaches, but I I’m gonna put chicken wire above my basket.’ And they changed that rule.Tex Winter, Bballbreakdown: History of Basketball
In 1956 this also became a violation. But Wilt found different ways to maintain his dominance. He was never a great free throw shooter –51.1% for his career — nor was he allowed to catch out-of-bounds over the backboard lobs. But he is still to this day, the most imposing physical presence the game has ever seen, and one of the greatest players in the history of basketball. No rule changes could’ve changed that.