Q&A: Wilt Chamberlain biographer Robert Cherry

The Wynnewood author watched Chamberlain from afar at Overbrook High School, but Cherry's 2004 book, Wilt: Larger Than Life, is an insightful look at the legend's personal life, career and enduring legacy.

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Photo by Jared CastaldiWynnewood’s Robert Cherry came along six years after Wilt Chamberlain, both in the classroom and on the court at Overbook High School. But it wasn’t until after Chamberlain’s 1999 funeral that Cherry read about the terminally ill granddaughter of Philadelphia Warriors player Paul Arizin. For the final months of 16-year-old Stephanie Arizin’s life, Wilt called her nearly every Friday night. The story deeply affected Cherry, inspiring him to write Wilt: Larger Than Life. To prep for this interview—in honor of the 50th anniversary of Chamberlain’s landmark 100-point game on March 3, 1962—Cherry visited Barnes & Noble for anything new on the legend. On the shelves, he found a softcover version of his 2004 book. “It felt great,” he says.

MLT: Describe your own encounters with Chamberlain.
RC: Wilt was always part of my life. A sister was in Wilt’s class, and he attended her 1955 graduation party in my backyard. I was 12 or 13. Another time, I saw him alone at the airport, carrying that little gym bag of his. You’d think he’d have an entourage, but he was always a loner. Then there was the basketball camp in the Poconos in 1960. I vividly remember standing next to him. He was wearing a Ban-Lon shirt and slacks. I looked at his forearms, and they reminded me of a champion thoroughbred’s legs. The veins and muscles in his arms looked like steel cables.

MLT: Were you in Hershey the night Wilt scored 100?
RC: No, I was at a college dance. Though just 4,124 were there, many more claim they were, even noting to Wilt on occasion that they “saw it at Madison Square Garden.” Wilt never corrected them.

MLT: With 46 seconds left, did the game end—or is that a misnomer?
RC: The game was stopped, but when it resumed, Wilt stood at half-court. He didn’t want to score his 101st or 102nd point. He stood there—and even he didn’t believe the game was played to the end, until he heard an audiotape of the last 46 seconds. No film of the game exists, which adds to the mystique.

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