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Wilt Chamberlain. In a Harlem Globetrotters uniform. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-115428).

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Chamberlain, Wilt (21 August 1936–12 October 1999), basketball player, was born Wilton Norman Chamberlain in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Chamberlain, a welder and handyman, and Olivia Ruth Chamberlain, a domestic maid and cook. Although his father was only five feet eight inches and his mother five feet nine inches, by age ten Chamberlain was already six feet tall, and he stood six feet three when he graduated from elementary school. His astonishing growth continued through adolescence and he reached a full seven feet by his fourteenth birthday, according to Chamberlain himself. In addition to his extraordinary height, Chamberlain was a natural athlete with fierce competitive instincts. He was a fast runner and was selected to participate in the 1946 Penn Relays when he was just ten years old. His youthful ambition was to be an Olympian. In high school he was undefeated in the shot put; he ran the hundred-yard dash in 9.3 seconds; and he recorded a vertical leap of fifty inches. Later in life Chamberlain boasted that he was perfect for the decathlon and could have been known officially as the world's greatest athlete....

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Cooper, Tarzan (30 August 1907–19 December 1980), professional basketball player, was born Charles Theodore in Newark, Delaware, the son of Theodore Cooper and Evelyn (maiden name unknown), occupations unknown. Tarzan, later nicknamed “Tatie” by the press, was a standout for the Central High School basketball team in Philadelphia, where he graduated in 1925. He immediately began a twenty-year career in professional basketball, playing initially with the Philadelphia Panther Pros in 1925, then going on to star for the all-black Philadelphia Giants from 1926 to 1929. ...

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Dave DeBusschere. Eluding the Baltimore Bullets' Wesley Unseld, New York City, 30 December 1972. Courtesy of AP Images.

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DeBusschere, Dave (16 October 1940–14 May 2003), basketball player and coach, was born David Albert DeBusschere in Detroit, Michigan. Little is recorded about DeBusschere's early life, but what is known is that his basketball career began when he was a star for Austin Catholic High School in Detroit. Basketball, however, was not the only sport in which DeBusschere excelled. He was the star pitcher on an Austin baseball team that won the city championship, and he was also a pitcher on a local team that won the national junior championship. Meanwhile, he led his high school team to the state basketball title....

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Dehnert, Dutch (05 April 1898–20 April 1979), professional basketball player and coach, was born Henry Dehnert in New York City. Dehnert grew up on the streets of Manhattan’s West Side and attended public schools. He did not play high school basketball, however, and he never enrolled in college. Instead, around 1918 he began playing professional basketball with successful brief stints in the New York State League, Pennsylvania State League, and the New England League before joining the Original Celtics in 1919. The first Celtic team played from 1914 through 1917, but it did not emerge as the most celebrated of its time until the years from 1919 until 1922, when the team was joined by Dehnert, Johnny Beckman, Horse Haggarty, Joe Trippe, Pete Barry, Nat Holman (the only player with collegiate experience), Chris Leonard, ...

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Douglas, Robert L. (04 November 1882–16 July 1979), professional basketball player and team owner, was born in St. Kitts, British West Indies. No information is available concerning Douglas’s parents or his early education. He observed his first basketball game shortly after arriving in New York City in 1902. Approximately 1919 Douglas and some friends organized the Spartan Field Club, which provided black New York City youths with opportunities to participate in cricket, soccer, track, and basketball at the amateur level. Coach Douglas’s basketball team, the Spartan Braves, were very successful, and at times he joined them on the court....

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Fulks, Joseph (26 October 1921–21 March 1976), professional basketball player, was born in Birmingham, Kentucky, the son of Leonard Fulks and Mattie Estes, farmers. Later Leonard Fulks served as a prison guard. When a dam was built, covering the area with water, the family moved to Kuttawa, Kentucky. Joseph Fulks attended school in Marshall County and Kuttawa, where he gained recognition for his basketball abilities. In 1941 he went on to nearby Murray State Teachers College. At 6′ 5″ and 190 pounds he averaged more than 13 points per game, winning selection to conference all-star teams after his freshman and sophomore seasons. The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) named him to its 1943 All-America team. That year he married Mary Sue Gillespie; they had four children....

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Johnston, Neil (04 February 1929–27 September 1978), basketball player, was born Donald Neil Johnston in Chillicothe, Ohio, the son of Alex Johnston, a railroad worker. His mother’s name is unknown. Called by his middle name throughout his life, Johnston played baseball, football, and basketball in high school, and he was a high jumper on the track team. After being selected to the all-state basketball team in his senior year, he declined several scholarship offers in order to matriculate at Ohio State University....

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Lapchick, Joe (12 April 1900–10 August 1970), basketball player and coach, was born Joseph Bohomiel Lapchick in Yonkers, New York, the son of Joseph B. Lapchick, a coal miner, hat finisher, trolley motorman, and policeman, and Frances Kassik. Lapchick, the eldest of seven children, was expected to help support the family. As a child he played an improvised form of street basketball, but he most often played baseball. He was a tall boy, 6′ 3″ at age twelve, and his height allowed him to begin caddying when he was only nine. He caddied for many top New York athletes, such as ...

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Maravich, Pete (22 June 1947–05 January 1988), basketball player, was born Peter Press Maravich in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, the son of Peter “Press” Maravich, a basketball player and later coach, and Helen Gravor. From the beginning of his life basketball set the tone for Maravich. Born in Pennsylvania because his father played professionally for the Pittsburgh Ironmen of the Basketball Association of America, he grew up in the Carolinas because his father coached at Clemson and North Carolina State universities. To the satisfaction, if not the instigation, of his father, Maravich’s childhood was consumed with basketball. Other children might take a teddy bear to bed; Pete slept with a basketball. Labeled “Pistol Pete” as an eighth grader by a reporter, he entertained at halftime of his father’s games, showing off his shooting, dribbling, and ballhandling skills. His exploits as a player for Needham-Broughton High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, followed by a year in prep school, placed him in line for an athletic scholarship to a major university. He had almost decided to attend West Virginia University when his father accepted the job of head coach at Louisiana State University (LSU), apparently with an understanding that his son would be part of the deal....

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McCracken, Emmett Branch (09 June 1908–04 June 1970), basketball player and coach, was born in Monrovia, Indiana, the son of Charles McCracken and Ida Williams, farmers. McCracken, known by his middle name, Branch, graduated from Monrovia High School in 1926 and entered Indiana University the same year. He received a B.S. in 1930 and an M.S. in 1935, both in physical education. McCracken earned varsity letters at Indiana for three years of play (1927–1930). At that time Indiana competed in the Western Conference, a forerunner to the Big Ten, and McCracken was named to the all-conference first team each season and as the conference’s most valuable player in 1928. In his senior year, 1929–1930, he set a conference scoring record and was a Helms Foundation All-America selection. At 6′ 4″ and 195 pounds—big for that era—he was one of the first players to dominate a game by virtue of his size. In addition, he played football for Indiana, although he reputedly had never seen a game before arriving at the university. His height made him an effective end, and he lettered all three years that he played, earning all-conference honors in 1929....

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McCracken, Jack (11 June 1911–05 January 1958), basketball player and coach, was born John McCracken in Chickasha, Oklahoma. Little is known about either his parents or his early life. In 1925 McCracken entered Classen High School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, where he played for Henry (Hank) Iba, who would become one of basketball’s coaching legends. After a sparkling high school career, which included a second place finish in the 1929 National High School Basketball Tournament held in Chicago and 1929 High School All-American honors, McCracken accompanied Iba to Maryville, Missouri, to play for Maryville Teachers College (later Northwest Missouri State University). During McCracken’s three years at Maryville the Bobcats compiled a perfect 31–0 record in 1930–1931, and in 1932 they lost in the championship game of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) tournament in Kansas City, Missouri, to the Wichita Henry Clothiers on a last-second shot, 15–14....

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McDermott, Robert (07 January 1914–04 October 1963), basketball player and coach, was born in Whitestone, Queens, New York. He left Flushing High School after just one year and began his professional basketball career with the Brooklyn Visitations of the Metropolitan Basketball League in 1932. He and his wife, Virginia, had five children....

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George Mikan Associated Press

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Mikan, George (18 June 1924–01 June 2005), basketball player, was born in Joliet, Illinois, the son of Joseph and Minnie Blinstrup Mikan. Both parents worked at Mikan's Tavern at the corner of Elsie Avenue and North Broadway in the city's working-class district alongside his extended family, headed by Grandpa George and Grandma Blondie, who had emigrated from Croatia....

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Roosma, John Seiba (03 September 1900–13 November 1983), athlete and army officer, was born in Passaic, New Jersey, the son of Simon Roosma, a building contractor, and Mamie Casteline. In his youth, Roosma was a standout basketball player on the Passaic High School “Wonder Teams” that won 159 straight games from 1919 to 1925. Roosma’s teams initiated the streak, and his ability to score was largely responsible for their success. Roosma played from 1919 to 1921, when his teams compiled the first fifty-seven victories of the streak. Roosma’s 1918–1919 squad had won twenty games in a row before bowing to Union Hill High School in the state championship game. But then his teams rebounded to win New Jersey state high school basketball championships in 1920 and 1921. He averaged twenty-eight points per game during his senior season and was named to the all-state team for three years in a row. ...

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Tatum, Goose (03 May 1921?–18 January 1967), basketball entertainer, was born Reece Tatum in Union County, Arkansas, the son of a farmer who served as a traveling Methodist preacher on the weekends. Tatum admitted that the 1921 birth data was “an estimate,” and claimed not to have a birth certificate. Some guessed that he was as much as ten years older....