Only a few chosen guys have ever been named the world’s “greatest athlete” in sports history. Without a doubt, Jim Thorpe was the best athlete in the world throughout the early part of the 20th century. Thorpe, a Native American from the Sac and Fox tribe in what is now Oklahoma, has never had an athletic record surpassed. At the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, Thorpe won both the five-event and ten-event pentathlons in track and field. “Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world,” King Gustav V praised Thorpe at the prize ceremony after the 5th Modern Olympiad.

“Sir, you are the greatest athlete in the world,” King Gustav V praised Thorpe at the prize ceremony after the 5th Modern Olympiad. As a running back, defensive back, kicker, and punter for the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Thorpe was named a consensus All-American in football three times. In his 12-year professional career, Thorpe was a member of six teams, the first president of the American Professional Football Association (later renamed the NFL), and a member of the NFL Hall of Fame’s (1920s) All-Decade Team.

Thorpe was inducted into the College Track and Field Hall of Fame, the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, the NCAA Football Hall of Fame, and the NFL Hall of Fame, in honor of his accomplishments in football and track and field. Apart from football and track, Thorpe participated in two professional basketball seasons (1927–1929), six seasons (1913–1919) of Major League Baseball as an outfielder with the New York Giants, Cincinnati Reds, and Boston Braves, and contemplated playing professional hockey in 1913 for the Tecumseh Hockey Club in Toronto, Canada. Lastly, here’s a little-known tidbit about Thorpe: right before winning gold in the Olympics in Stockholm, he had won the 1912 Intercollegiate Ballroom Dancing Competition. Thorpe was voted the “Greatest” sportswriter and broadcaster in 1950 by an Associated Press survey of nearly 400 participants.

Over the past 70 years or more, there have been numerous barroom arguments on who the best post-World War II American athlete was, following Thorpe’s reign. One quickly thinks of names like Michael Jordan, Willie Mays, Jim Brown, Wayne Gretzky, Michael Ali, and two-sport stars Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders. Nevertheless, this writer firmly feels that no modern-day athlete could match the child from the famous city of Philadelphia in terms of physical prowess, power, speed, leaping ability, skill, dominance, and physical attributes. Wilton Norman Chamberlain is his name.

The Initial Years

Wilt was born on August 21, 1936, and grew up in Philadelphia’s Overbrook neighborhood. Wilt, the youngest of nine children, missed a year of school after coming dangerously close to death from pneumonia as a small child. Despite the fact that both of his parents were just 5’9″, Wilt grew to be 6’0″ by the time he was ten years old, and at the start of the ninth grade, he was 6’11”. Because he had to “dip” his head beneath the threshold to enter a room, his neighborhood pals nicknamed him “The Big Dipper.”


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