Wilt Chamberlain isn't just an NBA superstar -- he was the NBA's very first superstar. At the time of his dominance, the league had just started accepting people of color and there was still a big racial divide both in the NBA and the country.
In fact, even after his record-breaking rookie season, he announced his retirement from the NBA -- and racial tensions were mostly to blame. He explained how he was getting beaten up on the court by opposing players and that if he responded in kind and became embroiled in fistfights "it would reflect on me and then indirectly on my race.
So, there is little doubt that he faced a lot of adversity, even if not everyone sees it. Celtics legend Bob Cousey once said this about Wilt's NBA experience:
"In my ten years in the NBA, I never saw any evidence of racial prejudice. There are over one hundred Negro players who have either tried out or made positions with clubs in the league and I have never heard such a similar complaint from them."
Chamberlain feels he's being pushed around more than anyone in the league. The guy has only averaged thirty-six points per game, broken rebound records and had more foul shots than anyone else. How easy does he want it? ... Wilt is the biggest complainer ever to hit the NBA. Standing six feet one inch, it is difficult for me to feel sorry for a man seven feet tall."
Nobody knows if Cousey ever changed his opinion, but it's clear that it was a problem he was ignorant at the time. So why is this relevant now?
Today, racial tensions are as high as they've ever been. And while we've made a lot of progress over the years, there are still a lot of changes that need to be made if we want equality and justice for all races.
This Wilt story shows that even the NBA was the scene of racism at one point and it was through basketball that some of the racial lines were first crossed. Can the NBA be the scene of more progress?
We will see soon enough.