How One Man's Heart Attack Could Have Cost Wilt Chamberlain Millions

On the evening of Dec. 3, 1965, Isaac "Ike" Richman stood in the center of the visitor's locker room in Boston Garden. "Men, we're going to be the world champions; I'm convinced of that," he told the members of the Philadelphia 76ers, according to the Philadelphia Daily News. "Now let's go out there and show the Celtics that we are... I want this game. I want it bad, and I know you can do it." Richman, a Philadelphia attorney, was part owner of the team with Irving "Irv" Kosloff, per the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. But more than that, Richman was a true believer in the Sixers.

He'd flown from Philadelphia that day so that he could cheer on his team against one of their biggest rivals. In 1965, the 76ers had never beaten the Celtics in Boston, per the Philadelphia Daily News. Richman believed this was going to be the night it happened and wanted to be front and center to cheer on his team. The game was tied 13-13 halfway through the first period, when Richman suddenly collapsed. He was most likely dead from a massive heart attack before he even hit the ground.

Ike Richman was a father figure to Wilt Chamberlain 

By the half, the 76ers were up by 18 points. The players didn't learn what had happened to Richman until they returned to the locker room at halftime. The news hit Wilt Chamberlain especially hard. Ike Richman, who was his personal attorney and good friend, had been like a second father to him, per The Ringer. "I didn't want to play the second half," he told the Philadelphia Daily News. "Who feels like playing at a time like this? But Ike was up here to see us win; that is what he was there for and the team realized this and that is why we played."

During the second half, Chamberlain was numb and couldn't help thinking about Richman, who he had known since he was in high school. Richman was the reason Chamberlain played that night, a game that the 76ers won by 16 points, 119-103. Chamberlain had been a phenom since his high school days — more than 100 colleges and universities pursued him when he graduated in 1955, per Britannica. After two years at the University of Kansas and a year-long stint with the Harlem Globetrotters, Chamberlain began his NBA career in Philadelphia with the Warriors, who moved to San Francisco in 1962. Richman lured his friend back to Philadelphia three years later, per The Ringer.

The first Black owner of an NBA team? 

Wilt Chambelain decided to retire from the NBA at the end of the 1964-1965 season and return to playing for the Harlem Globetrotters, but Ike Richman begged him to come back to Philadelphia and play for his new team, according to The Los Angeles Times. Richman and Irving Kosloff bought the Syracuse Nationals in 1963, moved them to Philadelphia, and renamed the team the 76ers, per the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

As an added incentive, Richman gave him half of his stake in the team, meaning Chamberlain would be a 25% owner of the 76ers when he retired from playing. It was a verbal agreement, since the terms were against league rules, per The Ringer. The two also wanted to keep it quiet since Chamberlain was already having issues with the NBA. "We felt it would not be good for me if it were known publicly that I owned a quarter of the team," Chamberlain told The Los Angeles Times in 1986. "I already had a lot of problems because I was making more money than any other player."

Wilt Chamberlain becomes a Laker 

With Ike Richman's sudden death, his deal with Wilt Chamberlain evaporated, since Irving Kosloff denied any knowledge of Richman having given Chamberlain half of his ownership, according to Forbes. Chamberlain, who had helped lead the team to become the 1967 NBA Champions and finally knock the Celtics off their long winning streak, felt betrayed. "Kosloff and I argued about that through the whole summer after we won the championship," Chamberlain later recalled, per The Ringer, "and I finally decided that I couldn't play for the man anymore if that's the way he was going to treat me."

The two men eventually reached a financial and contractual settlement, which included Chamberlain's ability to become a free agent years before the concept of free agency even existed, per Forbes. Chamberlain joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1968 and retired from the NBA in 1973, per Britannica. He died in 1999, with several NBA records under his belt, and $10 million in the bank, but had Kosloff honored the agreement, Chamberlain could have been the first Black owner of an NBA team and $612 million richer, according to Basketball Network.