Angelo Cataldi: Frauds can’t compare to Wilt the Stilt

A debate that has infuriated me for years flared up again, and it must end this minute. The greatest basketball player of all time is not Michael Jordan. And there is no chance LeBron James will challenge for that honor.

The greatest player is a man who grew up right here in Philadelphia, set records that have never been approached in high school, college and the NBA. He had more star power than Jordan, James and all other pretenders combined. His name is Wilt Chamberlain. Write it down, so we don’t have to engage in this silly conversation again.

In fact, don’t bother to write it down. Just get your hands on the NBA record book and read it. Then send a copy to Scottie Pippen, the former Chicago star who set off the latest controversy when he suggested that James could challenge Jordan for the honor of greatest player in the next few years.

The only honor James can challenge Jordan for is runner-up — and a distant one — to the late, great Big Dipper. Wilt the Stilt never finished second in anything, and he’s not about to start now, 12 years after his death. There is no way in this limited space to establish just how dominating Chamberlain was. He is the only player ever to win titles for scoring, rebounding and assists. He was a champion on two different teams, he is the only player to score 100 points in a game, and he once averaged more minutes per game (48.5, counting overtimes) than there are in a regulation contest.

And if you’re looking for some sign of his lasting impact, just cast your gaze into the painted rectangle in front of every basket. That area was created a half-century ago in a fruitless effort to lessen Chamberlain’s dominance.

I am a sports fan today because of Wilt Chamberlain, whom I saw play in person one time when I was a kid. I never took my eyes off him after that, both in times of triumph and turmoil. He was the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen or probably ever will.

I finally got to meet him for an interview in 1991, when he was touring for an autobiography claiming he had slept with 20,000 women (also a record, I’m sure). He was everything these other frauds could never be — fascinating, unpredictable, controversial, funny.

So let’s end this insulting debate, especially in Wilt’s hometown. The greatest basketball player of all time was, is and will always be Wilt Chamberlain. And if you believe otherwise, you’re either too young or too dumb to know any better.

One-hit wonders

When Wilson Valdez retired the middle of the Cincinnati order in the 19th inning, he became the latest in a long line of forgettable athletes who claimed a legacy with one shining moment.

Valdez will be forgotten as a player, but remembered as the first person in 90 years who started a game as a position player and ended it as the winning pitcher. The last one to achieve this distinction was Babe Ruth. Imagine that. Babe Ruth and Wilson Valdez, linked for eternity.

Armando Gallaraga will always be the pitcher who lost a perfect game because of a bad call by Jim Joyce. Bill Buckner will always be the first baseman who bungled an easy ground ball and cost the Red Sox a World Series. And Randall Simon will always be the player who slugged a woman dressed as a sausage in the nightly pork races in Milwaukee.

Is it better to be remembered for one moment than not to be remembered at all? I asked that question to Ben Davis, on the 10th anniversary of his decision to bunt in the eighth inning of a perfect game by Curt Schilling.

He said he had no regrets because the hit brought the tying run to the plate. For Valdez, it wasn’t just a game that triggered a winning streak — it was a chance to stand with the greats, at least for one night.

Expect football in early July

Here’s a bold prediction as we ponder the prospect of a year without the NFL: The lockout will end in July. What we are all experiencing is nothing more than a false alarm.

No, I don’t have any secret sources. What I have is a brain, and the logic says the players are not going to sacrifice a season of their already brief careers to save the face of a union president, DeMaurice Smith, who has already doomed them to failure.

Smith’s decision to let the courts decide the fate of the lockout is a disaster, and he knows it. The court hearing this week is a formality. The judges have signaled to the players that they won’t win their legal bid to end the lockout. So why haven’t they returned to the bargaining table? Because Smith’s ego won’t let them.

As the weeks pass in June, you will hear more and more players distancing themselves from Smith and his losing strategy. Either he will be fired, or they will force him to stop chasing shadows and carve out a new deal.

So, based on this thinking, here’s what will happen: The players will abandon the court battle in the next few weeks. Then they will take the best deal they can. Estimated date of agreement: July 7. There will be a full season. There will even be a full slate of preseason games. Everyone will get richer. You read it here first.

–Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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