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Wilt Chamberlain and Richard Nixon, October 27, 1968

October 27, 2008 |  6:15 am
1968_october_27_chamberlain01 By Keith Thursby
Times staff writer

Wilt Chamberlain tried to explain his political leanings during a turbulent year in American history, particularly his support of Richard Nixon for president.

"I've never gotten involved in politics before. But you have to get off the fence and declare yourself sometime and this is the time for me," Chamberlain told sportswriter Pete Axthelm in a long profile published in The Times. "I've known Nixon and been impressed by him for 10 years and I decided to join him. It's intriguing to know that I might have some hand in shaping the future of this country."

Axthelm quoted New York Post columnist Milton Gross, who had a different rationale for Chamberlain's endorsement: "He will be so affluent under his new contract [with the Lakers] he can afford to be a Republican."

Axthelm had another, simpler theory--Wilt considered Nixon a friend. "You notice how little [Chamberlain] smiles," said Boston Celtics star Bill Russell, a close friend despite their political differences. "That's not because he's angry all the time. It's because he's lonely. An outsider."

$30,000 Bentley convertible

He speaks five languages
"Nixon needs a lot of help on his image with black people."
"Without basketball, Wilt Chamberlain would become just another big man."