Wilt Chamberlain, who lived life on a scale that befitted his size, realized he had a heart problem. He didn't let that slow him down.
After towering above his basketball teammates and foes for two decades, Chamberlain continued to run marathons, play volleyball and pump iron until his heart finally gave out.
"You're talking about a physical giant of a man. He was still that until recently," Chamberlain's lawyer and longtime friend, Sy Goldberg, said Wednesday.
"He was always involved in a lot of things, and he kept going like he always had, almost until the end."
Chamberlain, an overpowering, 7-foot-1 center whose dominance changed the game of basketball, died Tuesday in his Bel-Air home at age 63.
"He had congestive heart failure," Goldberg said. "He had deteriorated relatively quickly over the last month or so."
Funeral services are scheduled Saturday at 10 a.m. at City of Angels Church of Religious Science. There will be limited seating for the public.
Chamberlain lost 30 or 40 pounds the past few weeks as doctors drained his legs of fluid that accumulated because of his heart trouble, Goldberg said after speaking with his friend's cardiologist.
Chamberlain was hospitalized seven years ago with an irregular heartbeat and was said to have complained of arrhythmia since he was in his early 20s.
"Most likely, with a man of his age group dying suddenly, it would be from blockage in the blood vessels, causing an irregular heartbeat, regardless of his past medical history," said Dr. Michele Hamilton, associate clinical professor of cardiology at UCLA.
Chamberlain's sister, Barbara Lewis, said her brother underwent dental surgery last week and looked worse than she had ever seen him.
"The cardiac situation was the main thing," Goldberg said.
Reports that Chamberlain had a heart problem surfaced in the early 1960s, but he denied them. Then he was hospitalized for three days in 1992 for the mild arrhythmia.
Even those closest to Chamberlain didn't know how bad the problem was.
"We knew it had been a little trouble for him, but we weren't aware that it could be serious. We did hear something about it a few years back," Chamberlain's sister, Selina Gross, said from her Philadelphia home.
"Maybe all the playing and activity caused some wear on his heart. But he took care of himself and went to the doctor."
Known as "Wilt the Stilt" and "The Big Dipper," Chamberlain played 14 NBA seasons, with the Philadelphia (later San Francisco) Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers.
He won championship rings with the 76ers in 1967 and the Lakers in 1972.
On March 2, 1962, in one of the most spectacular performances ever in any sport, he scored a record 100 points in a game against the New York Knicks at Hershey, Pa. He also grabbed a record 55 rebound against the Boston Celtics on Nov. 24, 1960.
He scored 31,419 points, a record broken by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1984, and grabbed a record 23,924 rebounds.
The NBA eventually widened the lane under the basket to keep Chamberlain and other big men out from camping out under the hoop. The league also changed its rules to prohibit running starts from the line on missed free throws.
Chamberlain prompted that by sometimes running up to the line and soaring into the lane after one of his many missed free throws to grab the rebound and dunk.
That option gone, he continued to try to improve his miserable free-throw shooting, at times attempting jump shots from the line, at others throwing up two-handed underhands. He shot a miserable 46.5 percent from the line for his career.
But there was that one memorable night from the line 37 years ago he hit 28 of 32 on his way to 100 points.
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