Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Wilt Chamberlain’s Jewish Role Models

October 14, 2013 9:28 am 2 comments

Wilt Chamberlain wearing his Harlem Globetrotters uniform in 1959. He played one season for the team, after which Jewish basketball pioneer Eddie Gottlieb convinced him to leave for the Philadelphia Warriors. Photo: Fred Palumbo, World Telegram staff photographer via Wikimedia Commons.

JNS.orgWith the 2013-14 National Basketball Association season set to begin Oct. 29, this month also marks the 14th anniversary of the death of Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest players ever. Beyond his eye-popping statistics, a closer look at the 7-foot-1 center’s life reveals the giant influence of Jewish role models.

Robert Cherry, who played basketball at Chamberlain’s alma mater, Philadelphia’s Overbrook High School, explains that “lots of Jewish kids” went to the school. After Chamberlain attended the University of Kansas and played for the Harlem Globetrotters exhibition team, basketball pioneer Eddie Gottlieb would convince him to join the NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors. Gottlieb also got him a summer job at Kutsher’s, the well-known Borscht Belt resort, where Chamberlain bonded with owner Milton Kutsher. Ike Richman signed Chamberlain to his first contract with the Warriors, Stan Lorber was his personal physician, and Sy Goldberg was his lawyer and the executor of his estate.

What is the common thread among Chamberlain’s mentors?

“Besides them being Jewish, they were people first, Jewish men second, and the traits that made them successful were traits lots of successful people have,” Cherry, author of  “Wilt: Larger Than Life,” tells “Wilt responded to that. They gave him direction and he admired their discipline, values, ethics, their performance and sense of humor.”

Chamberlain, who died in October 1999, is the only player to score 100 points in an NBA game, and to average more than 50 points (or even 40) per game in a season. He averaged better than 30 points and 20 rebounds per game over the course of his career, while no other player ever produced those averages during a single season. He won scoring titles in seven seasons, and 11 rebounding titles. He once even led the league in assists.

But while the salient image of Chamberlain is his domination of NBA courts, he also left his mark on the Borscht Belt—the chain of resorts in upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains that were a popular vacation spot for New York City Jews, peaking from the 1920s until the 1970s.

“Summertime also meant getting away from the hot city and venturing to Kutsher’s Country Club in the Catskill Mountains, where the air was clear and refreshing, and the creamed herring alone was worth the trip,” Cherry writes in his book. “It was also at this resort that, in the summer of 1954, [Eddie] Gottlieb, with the help of Haskell Cohen, then the NBA publicity director, had landed Wilt, a budding scholastic star, a job as a bellhop.”

Milton Kutsher, owner of the resort with his wife Helen, made a lasting impression on him. Subsequently, the Kutshers kept up a lifelong friendship with Chamberlain.

“We thought of Wilt as an extended member of our family,” Helen Kutsher tells Cherry in the book. “I used to kid him, ‘You’re like my fourth child. He always stayed in touch, and we’d talk during the year. He never really left us.”

Before Eddie Gottlieb—who got Chamberlain that job summer job at Kutsher’s—owned the Philadelphia Warriors, he founded the pre-NBA Philadelphia SPHAS, a team whose jerseys featured the Hebrew letters (samach, pey, hey, aleph) from which its name was derived. The SPHAS won seven American League championships from 1934 to 1945, and the modern NBA was founded in 1946. Rich Westcott, author of “The Mogul: Eddie Gottlieb: Philadelphia Sports Legend and Pro Basketball Pioneer,” says Gottlieb played a key role in Chamberlain’s rise to NBA stardom.

“Ironically, Gotty (Gottlieb’s nickname) could look out the windows of his house on Salford Street, and in the distance he could see Overbrook High School a few miles away,” Westcott tells “How’s that for a start in the relationship between the two? Over the years, Gottlieb went to watch Wilt play as a schoolboy. He earned Wilt’s admiration as one of the driving forces behind the integration of professional basketball.”

Westcott explained that Gottlieb “became the person who devised and championed a new element in the NBA draft, which gave teams the territorial rights to high school players from their areas.” That element would eventually land Chamberlain with the Philadelphia Warriors.

“Instead of having to wait for a player to complete college, the short-lived rule allowed players such as Wilt to be drafted by their local team. Hence, when the time came, Wilt became a Warrior, and that in itself played a major role in Chamberlain’s long path to the Hall of Fame,” Westcott says.

According to Westcott, Gottlieb had talked Chamberlain out of playing another year with the Harlem Globetrotters, an exhibition team Wilt played with during the 1958-59 season after he left the University of Kansas early and was not yet eligible for the NBA. Gottlieb offered Chamberlain a salary he couldn’t refuse—$30,000, the highest in the NBA at the time.

Chamberlain’s signing with the Warriors cemented his bond with Gottlieb. They remained close friends even after Gottlieb sold the Warriors. Years later, when Chamberlain was playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, he gave Gottlieb the ball with which he had scored his 20,000th career point, according to Cherry’s book.

“All of these situations over the years, and the fact that Gotty played a major role in the development of Wilt’s career, explains why they had such a close relationship,” Westcott tells “Gotty was in many ways Wilt’s mentor and Wilt had a tremendous respect for him and the role he played in his career.”

Another Jewish role model for Chamberlain was Ike Richman, who signed Chamberlain to his first contract with the Warriors as the team’s attorney and was later Chamberlain’s personal lawyer.

After the Warriors moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco, Richman and Irv Kosloff bought the Syracuse Nationals franchise and moved it to Philadelphia, renaming it the 76ers. Cherry says Richman was Chamberlain’s most trusted business adviser, the confidant who helped him with his personal problems, and a father figure. When Richman died in December 1965, Chamberlain—who was traded to the 76ers that year and would play with the team until 1968—said, “I owe that man all I have today.”

By the end of his career with the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Lakers, Chamberlain amassed numerous NBA records in scoring, rebounding, and durability. He won two NBA championships, earned four Most Valuable Player awards, and was selected to 13 All-Star Games.

Yet a series of emails Cherry says he recently received, all pointing to a particular video of Chamberlain that surfaced on the Internet, indicate that fans also remember the basketball legend’s bellhop career.

“Ten people sent it to me,” Cherry says of the video. “It’s Wilt working as a bellhop at Kutsher’s. He’s handing suitcases to another bellhop on the second floor.”


  • To Blacks who fear or are “uncomfortsble” with close “public” relationships and friendships with Jews, this story should set things straight for many who read it.

    Now you know who you can trust,

    Jews are also a minority, y;know? We know what you know.

  • Morrie Amitay

    In 1954 I played against Chamberlan at Kutsher’s and worked as a waiter in the Catskills and at other Jewish resorts from my high school days (All Metropolitan Jewish High Schools all-star) through Columbia and two years at Harvard Law School. Being on the same court with Wilt was definitely a highlight of my basketball “career” !

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →