Watching the Olympics with Wilt Chamberlain

Lynda Huey Athletics, Physical Therapy

By Lynda Huey and Alan Silber

A conversation between Lynda Huey and Alan Silber on the occasion of what would have been Wilt’s 80th birthday, August 21, 2016.

LH: NBC tried something new in 1992. They called it the Triplecast – they offered three live-feed channels from every Olympic venue called the Red, White, and Blue Channels. Viewers could pay for one, two or all three of the channels, depending on which sports they wanted to see. What it meant for those of us in the sport of Track and Field, we could watch every heat, semi, and final of every race. We could see every qualifying jump, every throw of the javelin and discus. We wouldn’t miss a thing. It would be like being in the stadium for every minute of competition.

One catch, since it was live, and since the 1992 Olympic Games were in Barcelona, we had to live on Barcelona time, which is nine hours ahead of Los Angeles time. That was fine with Wilt Chamberlain, who was a night owl and slept very little. And it was fine with me and my good friend Alan Silber, who could get up in the middle of the night to watch the morning sessions in Barcelona. Many other friends would join us at Wilt’s house in Bel Air for a day or two here and there.


Left to right: Patty Van Wolvelaere, Wilt Chamberlain, Lynda Huey, during the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.

Wilt liked company when watching his favorite sports, so I planned to move in for the Games. We invited Alan to come watch with us. He said he could get away for the second week of the Games, the week of track and field.

For the Opening Ceremonies, Wilt threw a big party and we all invited our friends. He cooked, really cooked for us – ribs, a rack of lamb, some steaks, and I made his favorite fried chicken. Cybill Shepherd was my new best friend, so she was there as were Wilt’s best friends from the beach volleyball world.

What I remember most about that night was Wilt cruising around the huge, round dining room table with the giant chandelier overhead, pans of meat in his hands, serving up some scrumptious food. Sweat was dripping off his face as he focused on getting hot steaming ribs onto each of our plates. With Wilt, I always brought the vegetables to cook, or else there wouldn’t be any. He loved his meat. I loved my vegetables, and together we made many great meals together.

Most of the people at his home that night had never been there before, so I gave a few tours as people’s jaws dropped open, amazed at the height and size of the main rooms. They knew something was different about the house, but no one could quite place it, the fact that there were no 90-degree angles anywhere in the house. No regular, right-angle at the corners of the rooms. And they were all wowed by the huge triangular skylight that could slide back to see the night sky over his 9-foot by 9-foot bed.

When track and field began, we got serious about our sports watching. Track fans joined us for a few hours or a whole day. They made sure they were at Wilt’s place to watch their favorite events to be part of the raucous group that talked louder than the NBC commentators.

We were up just before 2am every morning (11am in Barcelona) to watch the morning heats in the track events and the qualifying rounds in the field events. Some of the friends arrived just before 2 to join us. It was an odd time table, but we all were loving it. Wilt didn’t sleep much, but the rest of us usually took a nap just before dawn when the first half of the day’s viewing was complete. Then we were back at it at 10am our time (7pm Barcelona time) for the night’s semi finals or finals. Now and then we’d get a call from friends at the stadium who would call in their inside stories to us.

AS: I arrived for the first day of the track and field.  I had sat next to Wilt in Montreal in 1976, and knew he was “a track nut” with a long history in the sport.  Our lives for that week revolved around Olympic track and field events.  I told Wilt that when I’m at home in New York City, I watch sports events while riding my exercise bike.  Wilt set up his exercise bike for me in his huge bedroom, and I rode while watching the Olympics.  Wilt and Lynda were lying on the bed while I rode and drank seltzer.  The scene was a trifle surreal, but big time fun.

Lynda took us through a workout every day in Wilt’s pool. The workouts grew in size. I think the largest one was about twelve people. Wilt cooked – and how! He was a great cook! One night when I went out to eat with a friend, my rule was that we could only dine at a Spanish restaurant.

I am a hoops lover and follow basketball closely. Lynda never loved basketball (much to Wilt’s chagrin), so she would go do other things while Wilt and I watched all the basketball games. The Barcelona Olympics was the year of the “Dream Team” – the first time professional basketball players competed along with the college kids. Both Wilt and I were admirers of the Lithuania team who were wearing uniforms by the Grateful Dead.  Wilt especially appreciated the play of Arvydas Sabonis, the Lithuanian 7 footer, who knew the game and was an adroit passer from the post.  I had the privilege of talking to arguably the greatest center to ever play the game about the intricacies of how to play the position and why Sabonis was so good.  Watching those games with Wilt – just the two of us – analyzing every play was something I will never forget.

During half time of a Lithuania game, I had the opportunity to talk with Wilt about one of my all-time favorite basketball games – the 1957 NCAA championship game between Wilt’s Kansas Jayhawks and the undefeated University of North Carolina Tarheels.  I was a freshman at Duke and was intimately familiar with the Carolina team and its miraculous season.  UNC had made the finals in a thrilling triple overtime game against Michigan State. Now they had to face Kansas, who was a heavy favorite.  That game was yet another thrilling triple overtime game where Carolina cemented its undefeated season with the National Championship.  Wilt remembered every play and said it was a loss that still rankled.  He verbally replayed the game to me.  I was thrilled to listen.  What a memory he had of the whole game!

LH: I remember walking in one time while you two were watching a basketball game and neither of you even knew I was there. You were bantering back and forth so furiously with such heat, that I just listened for a while. I smiled at how much you two were enjoying the fast verbal company, then I walked right back out.

AS:  That was one of the best weeks of my life. We went from watching one sport to another and called it life. We just lived in that sports world, doing workouts and watching competition – that was so wonderful. There was nothing in the real world that intruded. I loved that we could see every single moment of track and field. I mean, we saw every throw in the hammer throw, including the first round. It was such a difference from the way the Olympics are covered now. You look at these Olympics of 2016: it’s so American-centric. It’s as if there aren’t any athletes worth talking about except Americans. But watching that Triplecast was totally neutral. They didn’t give you a medal count. They simply told you the lane assignments and what the athlete in each race had done that year and in previous years. It was sport in its purist form. That week still stands as a golden memory.

LH: The coolest part of our week of “Livin’ on Barcelona Time,” was having guests show up at the front gate just before 2am for the “morning” sessions at the Games. Several mornings in a row, Trond Woxen, a former Norwegian Olympic athlete, arrived exactly two minutes before 2am. Had had been a Modern Pentathlete, skilled in fencing, 200M freestyle swimming, show jumping, pistol shooting, and a 3200M cross-country fun. Wilt enjoyed quizzing him about each of the lesser known events and quizzed him on his training regimen. Trond added humor to our gathering and gave us a phrase we will forever use when watching the Olympic Games: “Raised by Wolves.” He hated all the athlete profiles that showed how tough their lives had been before they found track and field and jumped into the Olympic spotlight. Whenever he saw such a profile coming, he would yell, “Raised by Wolves!”

Patty Van Wolvelaere, the former American Record Holder in the 100M hurdles, came to stay for the two days of the women’s hurdles competition. She had been my former roommate and star of Wilt’s WonderWomen Track Club in the mid-1970s. Patty, Wilt, and I had hung out together at many a track meet or night club. Wiltie loved her company and always became more animated in her presence.


Left to right: Lynda Huey, Wilt Chamberlain, Patty Van Wolvelaere

At a UCLA track meet, 1974.


I moved over to give Patty my place of honor to Wilt’s right on the big bed. Some days or nights, there were five or six people watching the huge TV from that bed. It was a giant sports slumber party.

Watching the games twenty-four years after that magical week in Bel Air has brought back many of those memories. I stopped watching the Games when Wilt was gone, but this year, my interest was re-awakened. Now the memories are back and it’s time to celebrate Wilt’s would-be 80th birthday.

Water Rehab Specialist, Lynda Huey, MS, earned a bachelors and masters degree from San Jose State University where she also starred on the track and field team. Her own athletic injuries led her into the water where she learned to cross train and speed the healing of injuries. She has written six books on aquatic exercise and rehabilitation, books that are considered the foundation of aquatic therapy world-wide. Lynda is President of CompletePT Pool & Land Physical Therapy in Los Angeles.