Wilt Chamberlain’s (1936-1999) best sport was track and field, but basketball became his fame. He was six feet tall at age 10 and grew to 7-foot-1, dominated the NBA for 15 seasons and forced several rule changes, including widening the lane. But it wasn’t until last year that the Hall of Fame center finally was “posterized” on a U.S. stamp, a campaign that was initiated by the Black Press.
“It all started with a column in 2008,” explained Donald Hunt of the Philadelphia Tribune in a recent MSR phone interview. “Basically what I wanted to do was let a lot of the young people know the history of the game. Certainly Wilt is a big part of the history of basketball.”
While other Black athletes over the years have been featured on a stamp, such as Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby (baseball), Wilma Rudolph (track), and Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson (tennis), not one has been an NBA player.
“After the article was published, I heard from a lot of people who grew up with Wilt and were excited about the stamp being a possibility,” said Hunt. “We decided here at the Tribune to put together a committee and set up a process to get Wilt on a stamp.
We would all meet once a month. We put together an on-line petition and regular petitions,” Hunt continued, adding that Chamberlain’s friends, one of his brothers-in-law, a high school teammate and others who knew him were “a big help.”
The MSR first learned about Hunt’s efforts in 2011 at the NABJ national convention in Philadelphia, which is being held this week in Minneapolis.
“We got a lot of people to sign petitions. We had people write letters as well,” such as former teammates Pat Riley, Jerry West, Wali Jones and Al Attles; the late Earl Lloyd, the league’s first Black player; former NBA commissioner David Stern, and others. “We got some support from the politicians, too,” said the sportswriter.
“We knew we had a shot because we got a letter [in 2010] from the Postal Service that he was under consideration,” recalled Hunt. “The tough part was you didn’t know what year he was going to get the stamp. It takes a while.”
Then came the middle of last year when Hunt got an email from a stamp collectors’ publication that said a Wilt stamp was coming. “But when we got official word in August or September of 2014, we really got excited. But we never really knew he was going to get two stamps,” says Hunt.
“The [two] stamps, just over two inches tall each, are about a third taller than a typical commemorative stamp height of approximately 1.5 inches,” said a U.S. Postal Service spokesperson. One has Chamberlain in a Philadelphia Warriors uniform and the other in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform.
On the back of the stamps is a Chamberlain bio: “That’s the teaching moment for the kids,” noted Hunt. The Wilt Chamberlain Forever Stamps are available in sheets of 18 stamps at the Post Office and on their website at www.usps.com/stamps.
“I’m really pleased on how things turned out,” said Hunt. Although he has written many articles, features and columns in his career, he’s unsure if he’ll ever top the one in 2008 that got Chamberlain on a stamp.
“It’s great to see someone like Wilt get that recognition,” concluded the proud writer. “The Philadelphia Tribune…led the effort.”
Images courtesy of Donald Hunt via the U.S. Postal Service
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.