Top 10 Fashion Looks of NBA Legend Wilt Chamberlain
Known as an innovator for his unprecedented career in basketball, Wilt Chamberlain’s fashion sense has become equally as iconic. Changing with his evolving career, it is evident that his style has matured with it. From his hometown of Philadelphia to Harlem, San Francisco, and his final home of Los Angeles, Chamberlin’s fashion sense adapted to his surroundings and cultural influences of the time. Transcending any era, Wilt Chamberlain’s astonishing career and unmatched style have continued to be an influence on younger generations.
In 1958, Wilt Chamberlain started his professional basketball career, abruptly during his junior year of college, after being recruited by The Harlem Globetrotters. Chamberlain started breaking records from the beginning, earning what at the time was the highest rookie salary in NBA history. At this time in his life, Wilt’s style reflected his urgency for maturity while beginning his professional career. In the late 50’s, a young Chamberlain often wore billowing, loose suits contrasted with a long, skinny tie, resembling his seven foot stature, for a surprisingly sophisticated look.
After a few formative years in the NBA, Chamberlain played for his home team, The Philadelphia Warriors. Consistently setting records in this year, Chamberlain quickly becomes a star, pioneering the concept of athletes being treated as celebrities. Being versatile and quick, despite his height, he earned the title as the only player in NBA history to score more than 4,000 points in a single season. In addition to this feat, he also scored 100 points in a game, setting a NBA record for the most points by a single player in a single game, in the same season. During this time in his life, Chamberlain gained confidence in his professional basketball career, which translated into a more experiential, individualized fashion sense inspired by the time period.
Without having to make a far move, Wilt Chamberlain was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1965. While with the 76ers, he continued to set records, this time for the entire team. Chamberlain led the team to gain the best record in the league and set a new league record by having a 68-13 season. On top of this, he led the team into a victory over their long time rivals, The Boston Celtics, in division finals and over the San Francisco Warriors in the championships. As Wilt Chamberlain accumulated these records, he also accumulated more celebrity status and financial freedom. His new lifestyle encouraged Wilt to wear more flashy pieces and incorporated jewelry into his wardrobe than he had in the past.
By this time, Wilt Chamberlain was at a comfortable point in his career. Maintaining his legacy with the Sixers, in 1967 they made it to the NBA Finals and won against The San Francisco Warriors. Maintaining his status at the top of his career, this was also mirrored in his social life. Inspired by the social scenes and trends of the time period, Wilt immersed himself in this new culture. After being influenced by new social and political ideas, he experimented with different clothing styles and fits. His style at this point in his life is a stark contrast from the baggy, formal suits he wore at the beginning of his career. With his new sense of style in combination with a new hairstyle, Chamberlain’s growth within his career, as well as his social life, is apparent.
In 1968, Chamberlain made a life changing move when he was traded to The Los Angeles Lakers. The lifestyle he acquired living in Los Angeles matched his position as a top athlete and cultural influence. Pioneering the bridge between pro athletes celebrities, Wilt received all the perks of achieving this status while playing the game he loved. While living in Los Angeles, Chamberlain’s clothing became more vibrant, a style he would carry with him the rest of his life. He also continued to choose tight fighting clothing as the years inched closer to the 70’s.
In this eventful year of history, Wilt Chamberlain shows a clear evolution of his style and confidence from who he was at the start of his career. With financial and social freedom to express his personality and extravagant lifestyle, Wilt became more creative with his wardrobe, keeping cultural influences in mind. Leaning more into his new, exciting social life, he was able to lead his team to win against the San Francisco Warriors, but did not lead his team very far into the season.
In 1971, fashion in Los Angeles was influenced by bright, bold colors and patterns, and in this era, you can see Wilt Chamberlain perfectly executing these trends. Being known for his wild lifestyle as well as his basketball career, this aspect of his life was often portrayed through his wardrobe. In the early 70’s Wilt’s outfit of choice, consistent with most men at this time, consisted of pairing a silky, patterned shirt with tight, bright colored pants. Though he was getting attention for his fashion sense, he also remained at the top of his game with The Lakers in this year.
After playing for The Los Angeles Lakers for four years, Wilt Chamberlain became the captain of the team. In this position of power and pressure, Wilt succeeded in leading The Lakers to victory in the NBA Finals, defeating the New York Knicks in five games straight. This accomplishment, on top of his many other impressive stats while with other teams, solidified his position as a top player in the NBA, not just within the team. His success in Los Angeles also allowed him to receive the same recognition, benefits, and treatment of being a Hollywood celebrity. With the resources to clothing from top designers, in the beginning of the 70’s Wilt was not only following fashion trends, but starting them. Pioneering the pregame suit seen throughout NBA history, Chamberlain became known as a fashion and basketball icon in the 70’s.
1973 was an eventful, but also his last year in Wilt Chamberlain’s 15 year NBA career. Chamberlain took a player-coach position with the San Diego Conquistadors, which caused problems in his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers. This misstep caused a lawsuit between The Lakers and himself. The situation proved to outway the positives of maintaining his career in the NBA, so Chamberlain chose to retire a Laker. Stress of his retirement, ending his 15 year career matured Wilt and effected his style during this period. Maintaining details that have become apart of his personality, such as jewelry and vivid colors, Wilt relaxed his styles for more casual, but still on trend, pieces.
10. Post Retirement
Upon his retirement from the NBA, Wilt Chamberlain remained a record breaker, earning what at the time were all-time records for total points scored in his career, 31,419, average points per game, 30.1, as well as number of rebounds, 23,924, and average rebounds per game, 22.9. These stats solidified his status as one of the best NBA players in history. Post retirement, Chamberlain became a NBA announcer, tried out acting, and became interested and skilled in volleyball. Since Wilt Chamberlain’s death in 1999, it has been a heated topic of discussion on how his accomplishments and abilities throughout his career would compare to today’s NBA players. No matter anyone’s stance on this, it is evident and irrefutable that Wilt’s career had a key role in establishing and initiating the NBA we know today and has had a lasting impact on all players since. Chamberlain will forever be remembered, not only for his career, but also his influence on fashion trends, social culture, and the role of pro-athletes within social settings. Overall, it is impossible to speak about influential NBA players and fashion trends without mentioning Wilt Chamberlain.