Early footage of Chamberlain shows a towering youth that looms over his peers. But this is not the Chamberlain most of us remember, the one we’ve seen in YouTube clips and on late night classic replays. This Chamberlain is a mere thought of his future self, yet to mature, yet to be fleshed out. His hair is coiffed and his oversized hands and feet are connected via flesh covered pipes. There is no hint of the soul patch sporting, afro-wearing, lady-slaying, record grabbing, fully developed MAN that would so dominate the game.
Chamberlain left the mountains and found himself on the plains of Lawrence, Kansas. He hadn't played a game and he was already a national fixation. He was the closest approximation to pre-Internet, pre-cable LeBron James. America could smell success on him and craved every parcel of Chamberlain news they could get their grubby hands on.
And with any horde of fame-leeches come the public skeptics, the vocal roadblocks that would derail the nation's chosen hero. The Kansas Jayhawks’ in-state rival Kansas State was a dominant program in the late 1950s. The Wildcats were tournament runner-ups in 1951, made the Final Four in 1958 and made the Sweet Sixteen in 1956 and 1959. From 1954-1968 they were coached by Tex Winter. During Winter’s reign they also won eight regular season conference championships (the most ever for a Kansas State coach). In the 1955-1956 season they defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 79-68.
But Wilt Chamberlain was coming (he would play the 1956-57, '57-58 seasons at KU) and there were already rumors swirling around his persona. What was real? What was not? How tall was he really? What was the Wilt lean? Was he a competent ball handler too? I heard that instead of shooting his free throws, Chamberlain launches himself through the air and dunks the ball.
The last rumor, about dunking his free throws, gained so much traction that it became a focal point of an off-season coaches meeting. That led K-State's Winter to push for a rule change (at least that’s what former Bowling Green State University coach Harold Anderson told the Toledo Blade in 1956). When the rule change was brought up, and the reason for its proposal explained, the coaches laughed. But Winter wouldn't be a joke.
The Blade quoted Winter: “Look,” said Tex, “you fellows may think it’s funny but I don’t---we have to play that big guy for the next three years.”
The coaches listened. And a new rule was enacted: free throws must be taken from within the semi-circle, behind the line, and the ball must hit the rim before the shooter can enter the lane. Thus, prohibiting Chamberlain’s alleged method for free throw shooting.
It didn't slow Wilt or the Jayhawks down much. The team would reach the National Championship game in 1957, losing to the UNC Tar Heels in OT. Chamberlain averaged 29.6 ppg, to go along with 18.9 rpg, per sports-reference.com. He attempted nearly 400 free throws that year, converting 250 of them.
For the record, no one appears to have actually consulted Wilt on the matter of his free throw dunking. A lot of conjecture and mythos existed around Chamberlain, but there's no evidence he ever actually dunked from the free throw line. Chamberlain himself finally addressed the dunking-free throws issue when talking to the LA Times in 1989.
"When I was a freshman, I fooled around with shooting free throws this way: For some reason, I thought you had to stay within the top half of that free-throw circle, so I would step back to just inside the top of the circle, take off from behind the line and dunk. They outlawed that, but I wouldn't have done it in a game, anyway. I was a good free throw shooter in college," Chamberlain said.
He wasn’t a good free throw shooter in college, or in the pros. He averaged 61 percent at the University of Kansas and sported a messy 51 percent career average in the NBA. No word on what he averaged with the Globetrotters.
Back in 1956, Winter opined that the rule had to be changed to ensure an equitable game, otherwise “(Chamberlain) would have had a free throw percentage of 100.”
Whether or not Wilt was actually dunking his free throws (at any point in time) is still in question. There's no real evidence to support his or Winter's claims. But the rule change did happen.