It probably would be seen as a cheap shot to write something like, “Contrary to NBA Hall of Famer Karl (The Mailman) Malone, the United States Postal Service is failing to deliver …”
Those of us here at the Hideout never would want to (ahem) antagonize any situation by assigning blame for anything. So let’s just say that, like a lot of husbands who wind up sleeping a few nights on their couches, the USPS is about to let an anniversary slip by without acknowledgement.
Less than two months from now, the NBA and hoops enthusiasts around the globe will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the most astounding single performance in league history: On March 2, 1962, Wilt Chamberlain led the Philadelphia Warriors past the New York Knicks on a neutral court in Hershey, Pa., 169-147. Al Attles and the other Warriors combined to score 69 points. Chamberlain got the other 100.
It is a record that stands to this day – a grand, round number for one of the biggest performers ever in sports (never to have run in the Kentucky Derby, anyway). The Dipper’s Herculean feats and outsized personality seemed ripe for him to be honored by casual fans and the culture at large, and what better way than to put his image on a first-class U.S. postal stamp?
That was the passion that moved Donald Hunt, longtime sportswriter at the Philadelphia Tribune in Chamberlain’s hometown, to throw his support into a campaign to get the big fella so honored. An online petition sprang up to lobby the Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee at the USPS’s own hideout in Washington, D.C. Stories appeared here at NBA.com, as well as in USA Today, the mainstream Philadelphia media and elsewhere.
But one day into the New Year, Hunt sent an email with the disappointing news that Chamberlain will not get a stamp in 2012. This year’s Black Heritage (to be announced later this month) honoree will be John H. Johnson, the founder of Ebony and Jet magazines and the first African-American to appear on the Forbes 400.
“Wilt remains under consideration,” USPS spokesperson Roy Betts told NBA.com Wednesday. The process precluded him from revealing much more about Chamberlain’s “candidacy,” other than to say there is no expiration date on the application made on The Dipper’s behalf.
Wrote Hunt: “We’re hoping with the publicity from the 50th anniversary of his 100-point game … will help him for next year.”
Betts did say that Chamberlain isn’t limited to consideration for the Black Heritage series, which featured former Texas Congresswoman Barbara Jordan in its 2011 release. Sports figures have been depicted on stamps – in fact, a series of baseball Hall of Famers with Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Larry Doby and Willie Stargell will be released in Cooperstown over the All-Star break in July.
One snag with that for NBA greats is that so many of the league’s legends still roam the Earth, while USPS traditions dictated that figures be deceased for at least five years. So far, only James Naismith, the inventor of basketball, has made it onto a stamp.
But Betts said that, sometime in 2012, the USPS will release its first stamp depicting a living person. Will that crowd the field, with Michael Jordan or LeBron James jumping the line that had been limited to the departed? “I think it will open up more opportunities,” Betts said. “Our organization wants to keep stamps timely and relevant, and attract new generations of collectors.”
It’s possible, for instance, that a series on NBA greats now could feature Chamberlain, Jordan, George Mikan, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Julius Erving and others in any combination rather than sticking to, say, Wilt, Mikan, Pete Maravich and Red Auerbach.
In the meantime, though, there’s no reason to stop hoping and lobbying for this.