It was March 2, 1962, in the quaint town of Hersey, Pa., that Joe Ruklick and Wilt Chamberlain made history together.
Chamberlain had a magical night playing for the old Philadelpha Warriors, pouring in basket after basket against the New York Knicks and even making 28 of 32 free throws along the way. His last basket gave him exactly 100 points on the night, a mark that still stands today 50 years later.
The assist on the basket was by none other than Ruklick, the Princeton great. Though there was no video taken that night, a radio clip captured the moment: “Ruklick into Chamberlain. He made it! He made it! He made it! A Dipper Dunk! He made it! The fans are all over the floor. They stopped the game. People are running out on the court. One-hundred points for Wilt Chamberlain.”
Ruklick was an All-American high-schooler, leading tiny Princeton to a fourth-place finish in the one-class 1955 IHSA state finals. He went on to great fame at Northwestern and still holds school records today. However, with the Warriors, he was a back-up to Chamberlain, a position that saw little playing time behind the great giant of the game.
On this night, Warriors coach Frank McGuire made sure Ruklick got into the game as Chamberlain approached the century mark. He knew Ruklick, who was white, would pass the ball to Chamberlain, who was black, and knew that other white players on the team would not.
Ruklick was invited as Chamerblain’s guest when Chamberlain had his uniform number retired at the University of Kansas in 1998, a story that the BCR chronicled at that time. Ruklick told Fox Sports Chamberlain revealed to him that night that he told McGuire late in the game to insert Ruklick.
“I asked (Chamberlain), ‘Why in the heck was I even in that game?’’’ Ruklick told Fox Sports. “He said, ‘Ruklick, there were some guys on that team who didn’t want me to score 100 points.’ … I’m in the game because there was bigotry.’’
Ruklick, who grew up in the old Covenant Children’s Home in Princeton, became what he likes to call a footnote in history when he had a rebound knocked out to him and threw it back into Chamberlain for the 100th-point basket.
“It was not a dunk,’’ Ruklick told Fox Sports. “Wilt had a lot of class. He didn’t believe in hot dogging or humiliating his man. He rolled it in off his fingertips.’’
In an interview with NBA TV, which aired a documentary on Chamberlain’s night, “Wilt 100,” Ruklick said he saw Chamberlain put his hands up for the ball, bumped a man off his hip, “And there he was. I threw him the ball, and the rest is history.”
Chamberlain’s sister, Barbara Lewis, told Fox Sports, her brother was satisfied to come out of the game when he had 75 points with the Warriors had the game already won. He thought he was embarrassing the other team, she said.
Chamberlain, who died in 1999, had arguably the best season ever in NBA history — averaging 50.4 points, 25.7 rebounds and 48.5 minutes per game.
“Statistically, yes, it’s the greatest season ever,’’ Ruklick told Fox Sports. “But it’s also because this was a time when black guys were discriminated against. There was a quota system. The max was four guys on a team … In some towns, like St. Louis and Cincinnati, Wilt never left the hotel.’’
Here is a trailer for the NBA TV piece on “Wilt 100,” including an interview with Ruklick: http://dmmx2.nba.com/videourlredirect?&project=/turner_dig_del/wilt100_tnt_trailer_mix.