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How good would Wilt Chamberlain be in the current era?

How good would Wilt Chamberlain be in the current era?

Wilt Chamberlain was and is the ultimate what-if, or something close to it.

What he did as a player makes our current definition of “dominant” look skewed and, to be frank, foolish. He averaged over 50 points and 25 rebounds in the 1961-62 season with the Philadelphia Warriors, the year he scored 100 points in a game. 

Now, when we re-examine his career, there are so many hypotheticals that come to mind. Chamberlain himself was asked a bunch of them. Back in 1997, Conan O’Brien wondered how Chamberlain would have fared against Shaquille O’Neal.

“He plays an entirely different type of basketball game,” Chamberlain said. “He uses his physicality and he’s a big, strong young man, and that works well in today’s game. If he was facing me and other guys of my time, not so good. I’m a guy bench pressing around 600 pounds when I was at my best.”

A 600-pound bench press is an absurd number — the kind you’d need to see to believe — which makes it perfect for Chamberlain.

It's natural to be curious about how Chamberlain’s game would have translated to the current era. Since the Sixers retired his No. 13 jersey 29 years ago today, it seems like as good a time as any to dive into that topic a bit. 

(You can watch the full jersey ceremony retirement below, including an excellent opening from Marc Zumoff.)

Chamberlain’s rebounding likely would have carried over well to the modern game. He led the league in rebounding 11 times — even from ages 34 to 36 as he was wrapping up his career with the Lakers —  and averaged 22.9 boards per game overall. In any era, a 7-foot-1, 275-pound player who set High Jump records at the University of Kansas would be a standout rebounder.

We don’t have official numbers on his shot blocking, but it was a trademark skill. He never fouled out of an NBA game and averaged just two fouls per game in his career. That’s impressive, but also suggests he would be prodded to increase his aggression and take more risks today.  

If Chamberlain was born 55 or 60 years later, he likely would have been encouraged to diversify his game, to take the touch he showed on his fadeaway jumper beyond the three-point line. There would be more emphasis on drawing fouls, too, on using pump fakes and taking advantage of overzealous defenders. Though free throws were a major weakness for Chamberlain (51.1 percent in his NBA career), he probably would have scored a higher percentage of his points at the foul line.

How much would he score overall? It’s obviously a difficult question to answer. Though Chamberlain played during a relatively high-scoring time — teams averaged 118.8 points per game in 1961-62, compared to 111.4 this season — he was an outlier. He would have played a lot less than 45.8 minutes per game in the name of load management, which would have decreased his scoring average but perhaps prolonged his career. 

It’s possible the shift toward three-point shooting would have diminished his post-up opportunities because, for the most part, the post-up is no longer an efficient or popular type of play. Joel Embiid is an exception, though even he attempts almost four threes a game.

Against constant double teams, Chamberlain would have been coached from a young age on how to systematically read the defense, identifying where extra men were coming from, where his teammates were stationed and what the proper reads were. That might not have made a huge difference, since he had natural talent as a passer and had the most assists in the NBA for the 1967-68 season.

One of Chamberlain’s biggest admirers among current NBA players is Embiid. 

"To me, the GOAT has always been Wilt Chamberlain,” Embiid told Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck last year. “"He would have been dominant in this era.”

There’s plenty of impressive, borderline mythical evidence to support Embiid’s case. 

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2020 NBA return plan: Adam Silver says NBA is in '1st inning,' explains COVID-19 precautions

2020 NBA return plan: Adam Silver says NBA is in '1st inning,' explains COVID-19 precautions

In an appearance Thursday night on "The NBA on TNT," commissioner Adam Silver emphasized that the NBA still has several important concerns it must address before resuming the 2019-20 season.

While the NBA’s Board of Governors approved a 22-team plan to finish the season at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, beginning on July 31, Silver framed that vote as the first of many steps.

“It’s been a very difficult process,” he said. “And I should say, to mix sporting metaphors, we’ve got a long way to go here. We’re really in the equivalent of the first inning.” 

Silver explained why the NBA felt comfortable proposing a plan now after first suspending the season on March 11, when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Of course we’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way that we can resume basketball,” Silver said, “and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. … We’ve been exploring with the players whether there can be a new normal here.”

He singled out Hornets chairman Michael Jordan as an advocate for maintaining as typical a conclusion to the season as possible. The 22-team plan includes eight “seeding games” and the possibility of a play-in tournament if the eighth and ninth seeds finish within four games of each other. The postseason, however, would follow a traditional format, with 16 teams and four best-of-seven series to determine a champion.

Jordan “felt it was very important, after we established the 16 teams, to not be gimmicky,” Silver said. 

What’s next for the NBA? First, the league must secure approval from the National Basketball Players Association. The NBPA is set to meet Friday, according to The New York Times’ Marc Stein, and it sounds like the Players Association may have reservations about certain aspects of the league’s plan. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski she was “surprised” to see a tentative date of Nov. 10 to start training camps for the 2020-21 season. Oct. 12 would be the last possible date for Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals under the owners-approved plan.

“We’ve had extensive discussions with the Players Association,” Silver said, “but we haven’t finished those negotiations.”

Silver outlined some of the precautions the league might enact to minimize coronavirus-related risk, but he acknowledged there are still unanswered questions. He said players would need to maintain physical distancing protocols, even when away from the court. There may also be more stringent safety measures for older coaches and personnel more susceptible to COVID-19. 

“Obviously the most significant changes from when we shut down are we’re playing without fans, we’re playing in a central location, we’re playing on a campus where the players are going to remain there throughout the competition,” he said. “The players are going to be tested … most likely daily.”

“… Certain coaches may not have to be the bench coach. They may have to maintain social distancing protocols … but when it comes to actual play, we may not want them that close to players, in order to protect (the coaches). Those are all issues we’re working through.”

If the NBA does ultimately travel to Disney World, what are the contingencies if players, coaches or other team staffers test positive for the coronavirus? When asked specifically by Charles Barkley if a positive test in the playoffs would force a team to withdraw, Silver said, “we don’t believe we would need to.”

He said the league’s current belief, based on discussions with NBA health consultants and public health officials in Florida, is that it would be possible to contain a player, trace his contacts and allow a team to proceed because of daily testing. 

That’s one question of many Silver seems aware he’ll need a satisfactory response for if the NBA is indeed going to proceed with this season under very unusual circumstances. 

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Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant randomly bought a minority stake in the Philadelphia Union

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USA Today Sports Images/MLS.com

Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant randomly bought a minority stake in the Philadelphia Union

Strange but true: Kevin Durant now owns (part of) the Philadelphia Union.

The NBA megastar reportedly purchased a minority stake in Philly's pro soccer team this week, according to the Sports Business Journal, worth somewhere between 1% and 5%.

Whether Durant purchased the stake himself, or through his Thirty Five Ventures umbrella company, is unclear, according to the SBJ.

Durant was seen meeting with Union ownership this past December, raising eyebrows after the Maryland native tried on more than one occassion to buy a stake in the MLS's D.C. United, according to the SBJ.

I'll say it: Durant buying a stake in the Union feels ... super random? 

Trying to buy a stake in D.C. United makes plenty of sense for Durant. He's very proud of his DMV upbringing, so latching on to the local soccer team, in a league that still has plenty of room to grow, is a smart business move with explainable roots.

But Durant opting for the Union, after being turned down by United, is just odd. (Of course, he's no stranger to opting for an easier path.)

Durant joins former teammate and Houston Rockets guard James Harden among the MLS's notable NBA athlete minority owners. Harden holds a minority stake in the league's Houston Dynamo, along with the NWSL's Houston Dash. 

I wonder if we'll see Durant hanging around Chester real casual, before heading over to the newly-named Subaru Park.

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