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Still Remembering Wilt

Wilt Chamberlain was remembered Thursday with uproarious laughter and a few tears at a church just blocks from the high school where he first soared to basketball fame.

More than 500 people attended the lighthearted memorial service, telling stories about the tall skinny kid who went on to become perhaps the sport's most dominant player.

"Wilt never really left Philadelphia even when he was geographically far away. He never forgot us and we never really forgot him," Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell said.

Chamberlain died Oct. 12 in his Bel-Air, Calif., home at 63 of an apparent heart attack. A previous memorial service was held in Los Angeles.

Among those attending Thursday were former Warriors teammates Tom Gola and Paul Arizen, former 76ers teammates Bill Melchionni, Billy Cunningham and Matt Guokas, ex-Knicks star Earl Monroe and Temple coach John Chaney.

Chamberlain led West Philadelphia's Overbrook High School to several championships before playing 14 dazzling seasons in the NBA.

Chaney played alongside Chamberlain while he was in high school and Chamberlain was in junior high. Even then, Chaney said Chamberlain was dazzling.

"I would put the ball up, and Wilt would take the ball out of the air and while he was up there would put the ball in the basket, and then he would get credit for my basket," Chaney said. "I had to pull him aside and tell him to stop taking my shots."

Gola said he still has a crook in his nose from an elbow by Chamberlain. Gola noted that Chamberlain's height, sometimes in question, was actually 7-foot-1 3/4. Gola said he measured Chamberlain using a ladder at training camp.

Several friends and former teammates likened Chamberlain to such greats as Babe Ruth and Michael Jordan. Chamberlain still holds the NBA record for most points in a game (100) and highest season average (50 points in 1962).

But Chaney said Chamberlain should be compared to the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was instrumental in the civil rights movement.

"He changed the game that we all know and love. So you can actually say, `We're playing the game according to Wilt,"' Chaney said.

Arizin remembered Chamberlain as generous and big-hearted. Chamberlain befriended Arizin's 16-year-old dying granddaughter in 1996, helping her get autographs from dozens of NBA stars. He corresponded with the girl for six months before she died.

"He was more than an athlete, more than a great ball player, he was a great human being, which is probably more important than being a great athlete," Arizin said.

Outside the church, a sea of tall, graying men swapped stories of when Chamberlain was only 6-9 and played at the local community center.

"Those were things to remember, playing against him every Sunday in a gym where we both went, I didn't get too many points against him," said Sylvester Brosier66. "The records that he set will never be broken."

Vince Miller, Chamberlain's best friend for more than 50 years, was not at the 100-point game in Hershey in 1962. But he did see Chamberlain score 90 points in high school during a 32-minute game.

"He was a friend, my confidante, the best man at my wedding," Miller said, choking back tears. "I'll love him forever."

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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