WILT AT 50
Frank Deford's article (Doing Just Fine, My Man, Aug. 18) provides some long overdue insights into Wilt Chamberlain's lack of acceptance by both the media and fans during his playing career.
Chamberlain didn't just break records, he obliterated them. In his third season in the NBA, he averaged 50 points a game; the record prior to his arrival in the league was 29.2 points a game. This is the equivalent of a baseball player hitting 100 home runs in a single season.
The mind simply cannot accept such enormous achievements. By scoring 100 points in a game, grabbing 55 rebounds in another (against Bill Russell, no less), leading the league in assists one season (1967-68) and playing all but eight minutes of the entire 1961-62 season. Wilt created a superhuman image that no one could relate to or even aspire to. Chamberlain's crime was that he shattered our ideas of just how dominant one man could or should be.
His anger and bewilderment over why he wasn't better accepted as a player are understandable. It's heartening to see that these feelings haven't carried over into his life after basketball.
August 31, 1986
It is nice to know that one of the most misunderstood sportsmen in history has accepted the praise and criticism that came his way and that he has found inner peace and harmony.
As a basketball fan who grew up just as Wilt's brilliant career was ending and who has since watched the equally brilliant career of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, I find myself hoping that as Kareem comes to the close of his reign as the dominant big man, he, too, will find happiness in his life outside basketball.
It would be great to see Chamberlain playing for the U.S. Olympic basketball team in 1988. If anyone can make a comeback after the age of 50, it's Wilt.
JOHN R. HUSETH
My favorite basketball player, Wilt Chamberlain, shows yet again why Boston's Bill Russell usually got the better of him. Despite Russell's phenomenal basketball success, he never lost sight of the sad fact that America's general black populace was blatantly denied equality. But Chamberlain believes that America has treated this problem as well as possible. How, Wilt? With prejudice, police dogs, water hoses? The martyrdom of the many who have stood and marched for racial equality?
It is Chamberlain himself, not the youth of today, who lacks a concept of history. Can he not see that over the years America has fallen far short of our Constitution? The height that Chamberlain has attained over the years has obscured his view of the little guy's troubles below.
CHARLES A. WADE
As a longtime fan of the Boston Celtics and of their president, Red Auerbach, I applaud Chamberlain for denouncing charges of racism against Auerbach, "the man he doesn't like." Red does not see any color beyond the green and white of the Celtics uniform. Auerbach is a winner, and so is Chamberlain.
GERALD JOSEPH BUONOPANE
State College, Pa.
Just as I was getting ready to write a letter chastising him for not knowing that Wilt scored his 100 points in Hershey, Pa., not at New York's Madison Square Garden, Deford springs that fact on the reader on the very last page. A truly fine piece of writing. Frank, the way you tell a story and use the English language astonishes and entertains me beyond my wildest dreams.
Stone Mountain, Ga.
MAC AT 27
Curry Kirkpatrick's article McCrazy Days In Vermont (Aug. 18) was perfect. Some people may enjoy witnessing John McEnroe's tantrums on the court, but there are those of us who would prefer to watch a tennis match. Is McEnroe serious when he asks for "help and understanding"? Really, John! And I would like to know how Boris Becker has been "pampered." He is a deserving winner, and so is Ivan Lendl.
SUZETTE S. BARRETT
John McEnroe is the most arrogant and insensitive person in sports today. He says, "I'm not being welcomed back with open arms." What a laugh. Did McEnroe ever think of offering a little respect and understanding to his fellow man? If he ever does, it is possible that he will receive the understanding he is seeking. If I were a linesperson or sitting in the chair, I wouldn't stand for the verbal abuse he dishes out.
ROBERT E. CONNOLLY
Kirkpatrick's criticism of McEnroe was in poor taste. This isn't the Soviet Union, where athletes have to look the same and act the same, or else. Let McEnroe be McEnroe.
McEnroe's style of intimidation is supposed to bother you. One does not intimidate an opponent by being cheerful and friendly.
McEnroe has given to tennis more than he'll ever receive in return. We should step back and feel privileged to be able to watch one of the greatest players (if not the greatest) who ever lived. Kirkpatrick is the one who doesn't have a clue.
Frank Deford's story about Leni Riefenstahl (The Ghost Of Berlin, Aug. 4) is a classic. Riefenstahl obviously is still beautiful, active and full of energy. I looked up my 1936 diary. Aug. 1-16, for my notes on the time I was in Berlin to see the Olympics. My father, Bill Henry, was the IOC representative to the Berlin Games on behalf of the 1932 Olympics of Los Angeles. We saw Riefenstahl as she photographed Olympia.
However, I did not see the film until 1983, when it was shown at the Nuart Theater in Los Angeles. It was fantastic sitting there and remembering the actual events. Cornelius Johnson had been a student at Los Angeles High School with me when he took fourth in the 1932 high jump, so my family and I watched his every move in Berlin as he jumped 2.03 meters (almost 6'8") to set an Olympic record. My father used to say that Hitler congratulated the Germans who won the shot put and javelin that day, then left the stadium. The high jump went on and on, and when Johnson finally won. Hitler was not in the stadium.
Dad always maintained that if Hitler snubbed any black U.S. champion, it was Corney Johnson.
PATRICIA HENRY YEOMANS
In his otherwise fine article Deford makes, in the view of this reader, the rather absurd claim that Riefenstahl was "arguably the finest director of her time...."
Surely Deford would not seriously equate the oeuvre of Riefenstahl, albeit certainly not inconsiderable, with that of such masters of the era as Sergei Eisenstein, Erich von Stroheim, Fritz Lang and Jean Renoir, not to mention their American counterparts, Frank Capra, John Ford and Howard Hawks?
Riefenstahl's film Triumph of the Will, for all its technical virtuosity, is, in the end, a piece of egregious propaganda glorifying quite possibly the most repugnant regime in history.
It is dangerous to make Leni Riefenstahl out to be another unwitting victim of Nazi Germany. In fact, her very complicity is captured best by her cameraman, Henry Jaworsky, who tells us that, obsessively, she would have done her work for Stalin, Roosevelt or Hitler. Some people may view this as moral neutrality, but it is not. This kind of personal amorality is precisely what led to the triumph of Hitler's will and, ultimately, made the holocaust possible.
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