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How The NBA's Tom Meschery Became Friends With Wilt Chamberlain04:10

Tom Meschery (left) was supposed to go on a double date with Wilt Chamberlain (right).  Meschery cancelled and now says it's one of the "most shameful" things he's ever done. (Martin Blumenthal via Wikimedia Commons)
Tom Meschery (left) was supposed to go on a double date with Wilt Chamberlain (right). Meschery cancelled and now says it's one of the "most shameful" things he's ever done. (Martin Blumenthal via Wikimedia Commons)
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This story is part of Only A Game's Thanksgiving Leftovers Show. Find the full episode here.

Sometimes you ask a question and you know exactly where it’s going to take you.

That’s not what happened when I spoke with Tom Meschery.

"So, what was your relationship with Wilt like?" I asked.

"Well it was — it was ... it turned out be — he was a very distant guy," Meschery begins.

Meschery and Wilt eventually became good friends. But they didnt' start out that way.

Wilt Chamberlain was known as a nice guy but a selfish player. So I asked Tom Meschery, was there a moment when you were playing together when you thought, "Oh, yeah, we’re going to be more than just teammates who tolerate each other"?

"I think we really — it's hard to say," Meschery said.

He paused for a long time. And then he launched into a story I hadn’t heard anywhere else.

Chamberlain in 1970. (Wen Roberts/AFP/Getty Images)
Chamberlain in 1970. (Wen Roberts/AFP/Getty Images)

"Well, there wasn't a moment. There was an incident, actually," he said. "This is a very little-known story. Wilt and I were on a plane flying back to Philadelphia. We were both single. We were both trying to ... um, talk to the stewardesses? Is that the way you put it? I guess. And we got dates, and Wilt said, 'Well, let's double date.' And I said, 'That's cool.' "

You probably think you’ve figured out the reason for Meschery’s hesitation by now, because anyone who knows anything about Wilt Chamberlain knows that he once claimed to have slept with 20,000 women.

But that’s not actually why Meschery hesitates to tell this story.

Because he went home, and he told his roommate about the plans he’d made with Wilt and the two flight attendants.

"My roommate gave me so much trouble," Meschery said. "And I recognized, of course, that he was a racist and he — he thought I was being a pimp to Wilt's love of white women, maybe, if you want to put it that way. This was very controversial at the time. And I remember thinking, 'Oh, god, I don't want to get involved in this.' So I called Wilt and I — I made up an excuse. And to this day, it's one of the most shameful things I ever did in my entire life. It just makes me horrified at myself to think about that, you know, here I am, coming from the liberal West. Oh, yeah, right.

"But Wilt caught on. He knew what was going on. So the next day, he confronted me. And we had a long talk about this, and I won't go into a lot of detail about what was said between us. He was so generous and he was so understanding of my predicament, which was really no predicament. You know, I should have told my roommate to go stuff it. But in any case, Wilt knew and he understood. And at that point on, I knew Wilt and I were going to be friends, and we were and we continued to be friends until the day he died."

I don’t know what people will make of this story. Will it reignite the controversy over Wilt Chamberlain and his sexual exploits? Will we get a hundred letters from people who want us to know that flirting with your flight attendant is a form of sexual harassment?

I don’t know. But I do know why Tom Meschery was willing to risk all that to tell this story.

"If the words that I'm speaking now help people understand that Wilt was just one hell of a nice guy, I'm very happy to do it," he said.

We originally spoke with Tom Meschery as part of our collaboration with Sport Illustrated for SI's 2017 Where Are They Now? special issue. Check out SI's profile of Tom Meschery.  

This segment aired on November 25, 2017.


Karen Given Twitter Executive Producer, Only A Game
Karen is the executive producer for WBUR's Only A Game.


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