Wilt Chamberlain's final shot of the 1966-67 season took place at 4:50 p.m. on April 25, just seconds after the 76ers' star had ducked out of a chartered TWA jet at Philadelphia International Airport.
The 7-foot-1 center, the third Sixer to exit the plane, scanned the crowd gathered there to greet the new NBA champions on their return from San Francisco.
Chamberlain's head tilted toward the noise of a brass band. His dark, red-rimmed eyes scanned the 500 or so fans. Among them, he spotted Mike Richman, the son of Ike Richman, the late co-owner of the team and the friend who two years earlier had persuaded him to return to Philadelphia for another crack at those bedeviling Boston Celtics.
Suddenly, Chamberlain raised a dark Wilson basketball over his head. It was the game ball from the title-clinching victory the night before. Coach Alex Hannum had all his players sign it, then presented it to Chamberlain, "the guy who has given of himself all year so we all could get to this moment."
Chamberlain had been touched. He carried it out of the arena, into Nate Thurmond's nightclub, to an all-night restaurant, and, finally, onto the TWA flight.
"Wilt spotted my dad in the crowd and said, 'Give this to your mom,' " recalled the former owner's grandson and namesake, Ike Richman, a Comcast-Spectacor executive. "And then he flipped him the ball."
The heartfelt gift arced off his fingertips like one of his patented finger rolls and landed in the young man's waiting hands.
That brief airport transaction involving perhaps the greatest player and team in NBA history provided an emotional exclamation point to a remarkable 76ers season.
Forty years ago today, the 76ers captured the NBA championship that Chamberlain and the city had been craving through all those torment-filled seasons. Officially, they won it by beating the Warriors, a team that been Philadelphia's just five years earlier, 125-122, despite 44 points from Rick Barry.
But everyone here knew their championship had come earlier, on April 11, when the Sixers blew Boston out of raucous Convention Hall to win the Eastern Division finals.
In the regular season, Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Luke Jackson, Wally Jones, Billy Cunningham, Dave Gambee, Larry Costello, Matt Guokas, Billy Melchionni, and Bob Weiss had compiled a then-NBA-record 68-13 mark.
The Sixers easily eliminated Cincinnati in the division semifinals. Then, in what remains one of this city's most delicious sports memories, they ended the Celtics' eight-year championship run with a five-game triumph.
The elimination of Barry's Warriors, in a six-game NBA Finals, was wildly anticlimactic.
"This is the greatest team ever assembled," the normally restrained Hannum had proclaimed in San Francisco.
Even the Warriors' coach, Bill Sharman, a star on many of those Boston champions, could not disagree.
"You're probably right," Sharman said.
In 1980, the NBA confirmed Hannum's verdict by naming the 1966-67 Sixers the best team in the league's first 35 years.
This group would not win another title and Chamberlain would depart once again, this time for the lights of Los Angeles. But until Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls came along, no team had ever been more dominant in a single season.
It began to come together four years earlier.
Richman and Irv Kosloff had bought the Syracuse Nationals and relocated them here to fill the void caused by the Warriors' unexpected departure in 1962.
Philadelphians were cool to the newcomers. Seeking a savior, the team reached out to Chamberlain. The Warriors' pleasure-loving superstar enjoyed cosmopolitan San Francisco and initially rebuffed Philadelphia's efforts. But, finally, midway through the 1964-65 season, a deal was struck.
In the ensuing 11/2 seasons, Chamberlain and 76ers coach Dolph Schayes clashed often. Schayes inevitably lost that battle. When, before the 1966-67 season, it came time to hire his replacement, the team turned to Hannum, who had coexisted peacefully with the big man in San Francisco.
Recognizing the strength of the supporting cast, Hannum persuaded Chamberlain to sacrifice his scoring for the promise of redemption. He then persuaded the rest of the players to focus on themselves and not on their spotlit star.
"The thing I told the team was that we were all in this together," Hannum, who died in 2002, told The Inquirer in 1998. "Wilt was a unique and special talent. He had different habits, different ways of practicing and going about his life. But if they were willing to overlook those and focus on the team, we could have a special season."
Chamberlain's scoring average would dip from 33.5 points to 24.1. But he would lead the league in rebounding (24.2 per game) and field-goal percentage (.683) and, most remarkable, finish third in assists (7.8 per game).
The jump-shooting Greer (22.1 points per game), the slashing Walker (19.3), and the frenetic sixth man, Cunningham (18.5), provided offensive balance. Jackson was a defensive presence and a bruising rebounder. Jones was a relentless defender and prone to spectacular offensive outbursts.
"Wally had an uncanny ability to single-handedly raise a team's energy level," said Cunningham, an assessment that would be validated on April 11, 1967.
Philadelphia began the season with seven straight wins before a loss in Boston. The Sixers were 44-6 through 50 games and wouldn't lose two in a row until February.
Off the court, Chamberlain was Chamberlain. He continued to live in his New York City condo. He made outrageous comments. In March, as the playoffs neared, he said he was in negotiations to fight heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali.
That bout fell through when Ali got his draft notice. Chamberlain joked about the missed payday.
"I was counting on that money to help me pay off some of my fines," he said.
The Celtics didn't yield meekly. The Bill Russell-coached champions compiled a 60-21 record - and finished eight games back.
Those rivals were the class of the 10-team NBA. When both cruised to opening-round playoff wins, the stage was set for another postseason showdown. A year earlier, the Sixers had had the league's best record and been eliminated by Boston in the Eastern finals.
It was a Philadelphia spring ritual, frustration and defeat at the hands of the hated Celtics.
This time it all felt different - until Game 1 on March 31 had to be moved to the Palestra because the circus had booked Convention Hall.
The 76ers, behind 39 points from Greer and Chamberlain's 32 rebounds, took Game 1, 127-113. They captured Games 2 and 3, too, before the proud Celtics kept the series alive with a 121-117 victory in Boston on April 9.
Then came the game a city had been anticipating.
Before a jam-packed, juiced-up Convention Hall crowd of 13,007, the 76ers trailed by 72-71 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
That's when Jones, an Overbrook and Villanova product who, at 25, had resurrected his career and his life in his hometown, blew the lid off the city.
Jones, whose distinctive jackknife jumpers were imitated by a generation of Philadelphia children, hit 8 of 9 shots in a remarkable, electric run that catapulted the 76ers to a 140-116, series-clinching triumph.
One fan, imitating the infuriating victory ritual of ex-Celtics coach Red Auerbach, lit a cigar. Others marched around the old arena with a "Boston is Dead!" sign. The crowd delighted in constantly chanting that mantra throughout a lopsided final quarter.
"It was something all the 76ers have been looking forward to a long time," said Walker, "and it finally happened."
Claire Richman eventually gave that ball to her son.
"We kept it in the basement," Ike Richman said. "My brother and I had no idea of its significance and we used to take it out and dribble it around.
"But now we understand how special it and that season were."