One Man's Quest To Prove He's Wilt Chamberlain's Son

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Though he maintained in his autobiography that he’d had 20,000 lovers, Wilt Chamberlain also said that he had not fathered any children.

For this week's Sports Illustrated cover story, Gary Pomerantz, author of a book about Chamberlain, “Wilt, 1962,” became acquainted with a man who’s sure Wilt was wrong.

BL: How did you meet Aaron Levi?

GP: Well, Aaron Levi sent me an email about a year ago. And since I wrote my book, I get a lot of emails about Wilt, usually from readers of the book. But this email was instantly different because in the very first paragraph Aaron said that he learned 10 years before that Wilt was his biological father.

BL: I’m sure you must have been skeptical. When did that skepticism begin to melt?

[sidebar title="College Basketball Phenomenon: Fatherhood" width="630" align="right"]Juggling a Division I basketball career can be challenging. It's even harder when you're raising a young child, but a growing number of players are making it work.[/sidebar]GP: Well, of course I was skeptical. And really for two reasons. First, a journalist is supposed to be skeptical. But, two, because there are legions of examples of people in the past who have claimed to be the son or daughter of fame or fortune, and they've proved to be hoaxes. So Aaron Levi came to me, though, with more than a story. He came with documentation. He attached to this email the so-called non-identifying information from his 1965 adoption.

And what was so compelling about it is they're called "non-identifying" because no names are mentioned. The material was all given to this social services agency by the birth mother. And the mother is described as a 26-year-old, white woman who was raised in Britain and was working as a secretary at the time in San Francisco. The father was identified as a 28-year-old, African-American professional basketball player from Kansas, and it said that he had a master's degree. Not all the information lined up perfectly, but the only professional basketball player 28-years-old in San Francisco who had ties to Kansas — Wilt went to college there — was Wilt Chamberlain.

Wilt did not have a master's degree. In fact, at the University of Kansas he did not earn an undergraduate or a master's degree. But as his lawyer said, that would have been one of Wilt's pick-up lines.

BL: Aaron Levi did locate his birth mother, and she maintains that he is the son of Wilt Chamberlain, whom she knew for only two days. Given that she gave her child up for adoption and never went after Chamberlain for money or anything else, is there any reason to doubt her?

It’s important to note that he does not want money. He doesn’t want a dime here. He just wants to know his father’s family.

Gary Pomerantz

GP: She's been running from this moment in her mind for 50 years. Fifty years. And she told this all to Aaron Levi — they met first through emails, then they began long phone conversations and finally they met in person. She and a girlfriend who happened to know Wilt went with a group of friends to a jazz club in San Francisco. And they meet Wilt there — again, in a big group.

And Wilt did what Wilt often did. He asked her for her phone number. They went out again a couple of nights later — and this is what she related to Aaron Levi — she had too much to drink, she said. They went back to Wilt's apartment, and that night Aaron was conceived. She never saw Wilt again. At about the five-month point in her pregnancy, she contacted Wilt and told him that she was pregnant, she was going to put the child up for adoption and that he was the only one who could possibly be the father. And then she called him again after the child was born, and she told Wilt that it was a boy and that was the last she spoke with Wilt.

BL: Does Aaron Levi’s story tell us anything new about Wilt Chamberlain?

GP: I think really, Bill, this is above all the story of adoption. It's a story about one man's search for his identity and his most basic human need: to know the man and the woman who physically brought him into this world. It just so happens that Levi's odyssey happened to bump into celebrity. But apart from the fame of Wilt Chamberlain, this story is not so different from thousands of others of adoptee's story.

Wilt Chamberlain scored 31,419 points in his career. (Wen Roberts/AFP/Getty Images)
Wilt Chamberlain scored 31,419 points in his career. (Wen Roberts/AFP/Getty Images)

BL: Gary, are you surprised that Wilt Chamberlain's sisters don’t want anything to do with the man who claims to be their nephew?

GP: I'm not. You know, as I've been working on this story over the past year I've asked a number of friends, if you heard that your uncle — let's say — had had a child, before he met your aunt, and then that child comes to you by phone or email and says, "I'm your uncle's son. I want to tell you my story." Would you meet with him? Let alone give up DNA? Would you meet with him? And the answer was about half and half. I think it depends on the person.

BL: Aaron Levi’s quest to determine his biological parents has resulted in a relationship with his birth mother, as you have said. They’ve visited with one another, though she lives in the U.K. But by the time Levi became convinced that Chamberlain was his father, Wilt had died. Does Aaron Levi seem to you at peace with his quest?

GP: No, to the contrary. I think this still burns within him. It's important to note that he does not want money. He doesn't want a dime here. He just wants to know his father's family. He wants to meet them. And I think, he wants probably  in some ways to have a relationship, an embrace with them. It's gut-level, emotional stuff about identity. And that's his quest.

This segment aired on March 7, 2015.

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