Wilt Chamberlain was a well-traveled man

| Senior Sports Editor

In many ways, Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest ever. In 14 seasons in the National Basketball Association, he was the seven-time scoring leader and 11-time rebound champion. He once tallied 100 points in one game, and in another, he pulled down 55 boards. At a time when the NBA was in its infancy, “Wilt the Stilt” lit the league on fire. As you can imagine, that played pretty well with the ladies.

In his 1991 book “A View From Above,” Chamberlain made the now famous claim that he had slept with 20,000 different women over the course of his life. The claim is as famous as it is preposterous. Sure, Chamberlain was known for his boastful attitude. In the early 1960s, he claimed to have killed a mountain lion with his bare hands. Another story has him going toe-to-toe with Nikita Khrushchev in a drinking contest. But of all the outlandish things he said, that number—“20,000”—has stuck in American pop culture, maybe even more than his 100-point game.

There is at least some cursory evidence to back this up. Chamberlain was known as a confident pick-up artist. One associate, Swedish Olympic high jumper Annette Tannander, noted that he was forward but respectful.

“I think Wilt hit on everything that moved,” she said. “[But] he never was bad or rude.”

His lawyer, Seymour Goldberg, put it more succinctly: “Some people collect stamps, Wilt collected women.”

Even Chamberlain’s house seemed designed to fit his sexual appetite. In his $25 million mansion in Bel Air, Calif., he built what was essentially a sex den, with mirrored walls and a fur covered waterbed.

People who knew him agree that he had the bravado to pull off the feat. But the rate and persistence to get to 20,000 is just absurd. Let’s take a look at the numbers. Keep in mind, that this will all be very rough.

Tom Fitzhugh, a close childhood friend of Chamberlain’s, once said, “I don’t remember him having a date. He was probably a virgin when he left high school.”

If we believe Fitzhugh, then let’s estimate that Chamberlain first had sex at 18 years old. Since Chamberlain also never married, we can also assume he kept up some kind of pace all the way up until his book was released in 1991. That leaves a 37-year window for him to rack up the numbers he’s talking about. That’s 13,577 days. A simple surface level calculation indicates that he would have to have sex with roughly 1.47 women per day (w/d), or one every 16.29 hours to reach 20,000. Incredible and miraculous. But impossible? Not really. According to other close friends, Chamberlain was very fond of threesomes. He would have had to accomplish an ordinary man’s crowning achievement every other day just to keep pace. If he was as smooth as his friends said he was, it’s possible.

Things get murkier once we start putting on some restrictions. Chamberlain was an instant start at Kansas University, but no 18-21 year old is having a threesome every two days. Let’s be “conservative” and say that he “scored” a third of the nights while he was in Kansas, which was about two and a half years. That’s still roughly 300 women. That leaves 12,665 days to get the other 19,700—or 1.55 w/d. The more caveats you slap on (like funerals and sick days), the higher that rate climbs, until he’s having an orgy every fifth day. Not to mention that he also had to find some time to go to practice, play games, travel on the road and score 30.1 points per game over his career.

This was in an age before Tinder, Craigslist or any of the other handicaps people use to facilitate their love life. That means Chamberlain had to do all of the legwork himself. Even granting that more than a fair share of women approached him of their own volition, it might have been more economical for Chamberlain to just take out an advertisement in the local newspaper.

There is one more key distinction in Chamberlain’s number. He claimed he slept with 20,000 women—different women. Unless he was hitting and quitting at an astronomical rate, one has to assume that he slept with at least a fraction of those women multiple times. There is evidence that this is true. In a 1999 television piece for the Philadelphia 76ers, he offered a warning for men who aspired to his promiscuous lifestyle.

“With all of you men out there who think that having a thousand different ladies is pretty cool, I have learned in my life–I’ve found out that having one woman a thousand different times is much more satisfying,” Chamberlain said.

1.47 or 1.55 w/d now becomes just a baseline. Depending on how often he went back to the same woman, the sex per day ratio could climb higher and higher, until he’s doing the nasty at halftime.

One last point. Condoms only have a 98 percent prevention rate. If we go out on a limb and assume Chamberlain wore protection every single time he had sex (sticking with the 20,000 number for convenience) that means the rubber failed 400 times. A broken condom won’t automatically result in a pregnancy but considering no woman ever came forward with a paternity suit, Chamberlain is either the luckiest man in the world or he exaggerated his numbers slightly.