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The sportswriter behind the Wilt stamp

Philadelphia Tribune sportswriter Donald Hunt had an idea, wrote a column about it, and could have left it at that. His idea: Wilt Chamberlain belongs on a stamp.

Wilt Chamberlain. (AP Photo)
Wilt Chamberlain. (AP Photo)Read more

Philadelphia Tribune sportswriter Donald Hunt had an idea, wrote a column about it, and could have left it at that. His idea: Wilt Chamberlain belongs on a stamp.

A big stamp, befitting the most dominant basketball player in the history of the game, an Overbrook High graduate who took the NBA record book to all sorts of heights not approached since.

Hunt wrote his "From the Locker Room" column in the Tribune on Feb. 15, 2008. He pointed out that other sports greats such as Jackie Robinson and Jesse Owens had their images on stamps.

After the column, Hunt set out on a full-blown drive that hit pay dirt almost seven years later. Credit the sportswriter with one of the finer assists of Chamberlain's career.

The formal dedication of a Wilt Chamberlain U.S. Postal Service stamp will take place Friday night at halftime of the 76ers game, with the stamps also on sale and one going to each fan in attendance.

A typical commemorative stamp is about 1.5 inches in height. This one, appropriately, goes a little over two inches. "It's an incredible stamp," Hunt said.

Wilt is the first NBA player so honored. In this case, there are two stamps being issued, one of Chamberlain in a Philadelphia Warriors uniform, the other in a Los Angeles Lakers uniform. He started his career in one, finished it in the other.

To make this happen, a local committee had been set up, tasks assigned. All along, this was Hunt's baby. After the 2008 column, he put together a special Wilt section in the Tribune. Then there was a petition drive that lasted years.

"We were sending letters from famous people," Hunt said. "David Stern wrote a letter. Jerry West, Al Attles, Pat Riley, they all wrote letters. For a while, you didn't hear anything [from the U.S. Postal Service], then you'd get a letter that they had received a lot of materials. . . . We didn't think it would take six years."

"The 76ers gave us a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers when LeBron was in Cleveland the first time, to sign petitions. They gave us a table, two guys from the Tribune. We must have had 250 people or more. We mailed those down. We had a Wilt Chamberlain exhibit at the Black History Cultural Showcase at the Convention Center."

Ask Hunt which player he considers the greatest NBA player of all time, and the sportswriter immediately says: "Oh, it's Wilt Chamberlain. In my opinion, it's Wilt Chamberlain. I thought I knew everything about him, but I learned so much. For example, his rookie year, he averaged 37 points and 27 rebounds. Let me know when we have another player who does that. A rookie, too."

Most casual fans know that Wilt, who died in 1999, once scored 100 points in a game. More avid fans know he once averaged 50 points a game in a season, his third in the league playing for the Warriors. He averaged 22.9 rebounds a game for his career. Accused of being selfish, he averaged 8.6 assists a game one season.

Hunt, who grew up in Darby Borough, Delaware County - "Now I live in West Philly; I live three blocks from Overbrook, where Wilt went to school" - says he was 12 when he saw Wilt play for the first time as the 76ers faced Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati during the Sixers' 1966-67 title run. Hunt remembers seeing the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain going for a rebound and thinking to himself: "Wow, this is awesome."

After Chamberlain retired, Hunt met him several times at press events when Wilt was back in town. But this advocacy drive wasn't personal. When the Postal Service, which had heard from Hunt often during those years, informed Hunt that it was happening, the stamp was being issued, he talked to Wilt's sister Barbara, now living in Las Vegas.

"I got real excited and I called her," Hunt said. "She was excited."

So who else belongs on a stamp?

"I tell you what, really we talked about that," Hunt said, ticking off some legends, including a local one. "How about Joe Frazier?"