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5 Things You Didn't Know About Wilt Chamberlain

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Wilt Chamberlain. The mere mention of the Big Dipper's name evokes images of hoops dominance and romantic impossibilities. The man who once scored 100 points in a single game and claimed to have bedded 20,000 women was a fairly enigmatic figure, though, as his huge athletic gifts made him something of a loner throughout his career. As we continue our new series of five things you didn't know about famous people, let's take a look at Wilton Norman Chamberlain.

1. He Wasn't Just Great At Basketball

Although Chamberlain is most known for his exploits on the basketball court, he was no athletic one-trick pony. As a high schooler he was intensely interested in track and field, and he continued this passion when he went to college at Kansas University. While at volleyball-mag.jpgKansas, Chamberlain won three straight Big Eight high jump championships, ran the 100-yard dash, and could hurl the shotput up to 56 feet.

After his basketball career ended in 1974, the Big Dipper picked up a new hobby: volleyball. That year he became a board member of the International Volleyball Association, a fledgling pro coed volleyball league that only lasted until 1979, and brought his intimidating 7'1" frame to the Seattle Smashers' front line. Chamberlain's presence brought enough attention to the league that the IVA's All-Star game was televised. (Of course Wilt won the MVP of the game.) His contributions to volleyball earned him a spot in the sport's Hall of Fame.

2. He Nearly Boxed Muhammad Ali

Chamberlain was notorious for always seeking out a new challenge, but he missed out on one that became one of the great "what if?" scenarios in sports history. According to Don Cherry's biography Wilt: Larger than Life, legendary boxing trainer and promoter Cus D'Amato approached Chamberlain in 1965 with a lucrative offer to box heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali. Philadelphia 76ers owner Ike Richman eventually talked Chamberlain out of the match, but the idea just wouldn't die.

chamberlain-aliD'Amato again offered to train Wilt for a fight against Ali in 1967. In this fight, football star Jim Brown would act as Chamberlain's manager. Although Wilt was taller, heavier, and had over a foot on Ali in the reach department, Chamberlain's father, a boxing fan, warned his son away from the fight.

It was in 1971, though, that it looked like this throwdown was really going to finally happen. Wilt signed a contract to fight Ali at the Houston Astrodome on July 26, 1971, potentially for the heavyweight title if Ali could beat champion Joe Frazier that March. However, Ali dropped the Frazier fight for his first professional loss, and Chamberlain ended up backing out at the last minute thanks to an escape clause in his contract.

3. He Knew How to Fix a Car Problem

Chamberlain loved cars, and he was known for cruising around in his Cadillac convertible or a custom-made lavender Bentley he'd imported from England. What Chamberlain craved, though, was speed. The only hitch was that he couldn't fit his giant frame into any of the sports cars on the market; he allegedly had to take the seat out of his Lamborghini Countach and replace it with a padded mat just so he could fit behind the wheel.

searcher-one

Most people would just resign themselves to driving some big boxy ride with plenty of legroom in this situation. This was Chamberlain, though, and his solution to this conundrum was characteristically over-the-top: he designed and built a fully custom Le Mans-style racecar. The yellow ride, called Searcher One, was built for Chamberlain in 1996 at a reported cost of $750,000.

4. He Trotted the Globe

Most people think of Chamberlain as a member of the Lakers, Warriors, or 76ers, but his first pro basketball gig was actually with the Harlem Globetrotters. After losing in the finals of the NCAA tournament during his junior year at Kansas, Wilt wanted to make the leap to the NBA. NBA rules didn't allow players who hadn't finished college, though, so Wilt signed up with the Globetrottters.

Financially, Chamberlain probably made out like a bandit by skipping the NBA to head to Harlem. At the time, the average NBA player made less than $10,000 a season, while Wilt's deal guaranteed him $65,000 each year. Chamberlain immediately became the team's top draw; who wouldn't want to watch a seven-footer play shooting guard? After a season of enthusiastically throwing himself into the Globetrotters' skits and shooting, Wilt jumped to the Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA.

5. That 20,000 Number May Have Been Exaggerated

Chamberlain's famous claim that he slept with 20,000 women first appeared in his 1991 autobiography A View From Above. While Chamberlain was indeed renowned as an incredible pick-up artist and ladies' man, for him to hit such a lofty number he would have needed to bed 1.2 women a day every single day from the age of 15 until he wrote the book.

Although the 20,000 feat would have been logistically difficult, Chamberlain allegedly told his on-and-off girlfriend Lynda Huey, "What's a zero between friends?" to imply that the number was actually more like 2,000. According to David M. Pomerantz's exquisite must-read Wilt, 1962, lifelong friend and confidante Lynda Huey thought that number sounded about right.

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here..

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.

1. ON SCIENCE

"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.

2. ON NASA FUNDING

"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles

3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES

"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole

4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE

"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles

5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS 

PBS

"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

6. ON JAMES CAMERON'S TITANIC

"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole

7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID

"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles

8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT

"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit

9. ON INTELLIGENT LIFE (OR THE LACK THEREOF)

Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/n/neildegras615117.html

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."

10. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT 

A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.

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