THE NEXT TIME will be Monday, Jan. 28, in Chicago; the day after Super Bowl Sunday.
That will be when Michael Jordan gets another shot -- or, to be accurate, multiple shots -- at the Denver Nuggets.
Students of basketball history wait in anticipation for every meeting of Jordan's Chicago Bulls and the offer-no-resistance defense of Paul Westhead's Nuggets.
These students relate each of these meetings to a landmark date in the game's annals: March 2, 1962. That was the night Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points against the New York Knicks.
One hundred points. Not even the incredible Michael has scored more than 69 in a game. Jordan did that last March against Denver, before Westhead introduced his laissez-faire approach to defense in favor of AK-47 offense.
"When I scored that 69, I was dead," admitted Jordan. "It's hard to believe I could score 31 more."
Jordan put up 27 shots that night. He sank 23, including two three-pointers, which didn't exist in Wilt's day.
How did Chamberlain get his century?
It wasn't unexpected. There had been predictions of 100 since he began dominating Philadelphia basketball as a freshman at Overbrook High School.
Wilt was with the Philadelphia Warriors in '62. His coach, the late Frank McGuire, maintained that if the "officials would keep everyone off his back, as they should" Wilt would score 100 in the NBA.
When the century came, it was at Hershey, Pa. Little more than 4,000 people saw it.
The Warriors used to train in Hershey and part of the deal was that they would play a few league games up there. So they made the two-hour bus ride northwest from Philly and arrived 2 1/2 hours before tipoff.
While the Baltimore Colts and Philadelphia Eagle footballers played a preliminary game, Chamberlain stepped into the game room to play the pinball machine.
Lights began to flash and bells rang. Wilt was hot. It was an omen.
The last-place Knicks were in trouble before they started. Phil Jordan, their regular center, was injured. Guarding Chamberlain would be journeyman Darrall Imhoff.
For those who never saw Chamberlain play, we are not talking Manute Bol, here. We are talking "Fee! Fie! Fo! Fum!"
Wilt is a bona fide giant. Not only does he stand seven feet plus, but he is huge. Massive. Humongous. I saw Chamberlain play many times, but his height and girth had full impact when I saw him as a spectator in the Aud when Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut came to town. Men who stood more than six feet tall seemed to be at eye level with his belt buckle.
Imhoff must have felt the same way civilians react to Chamberlain. By the end of the first period, Wilt had 23 points and Imhoff was in foul trouble.
By halftime, Chamberlain had scored 41 points. "I knew he was headed for something special because he was hitting his foul shots," said Warrior owner Eddie Gottlieb.
"When I made my first 10 free throws, I thought it would be great if I could break the record for the most foul shots in a game," admitted Wilt, who considered it a triumph whenever he went .500 at the line for a game.
By the end of the third quarter, Chamberlain was at Michael Jordan's personal best, 69 points. In reach were his own NBA records of 78 points, scored in an overtime game, and 73 in regulation.
Imhoff fouled out early in the last period, which left 6-9 Cleveland Buckner and 6-7 Willie Naulls to guard Wilt, with other Knicks sagging on him. The fans, sensing the possibility, began to chant, "Give it to Wilt!"
With 7:51 left, Guy Rodgers fed him and Wilt hit a fall-away jumper from the foul line to break the record with his 79th point.
The Warriors fed him furiously, but the Knicks, trying to avoid embarrassment, held the ball for nearly the full 24 seconds on every possession.
When Wilt reached 89 points, the Knicks changed strategy. They began to foul the other Warriors before they could pass to Chamberlain. But McGuire countered by sending three substitutes into the game with orders to foul the Knicks so that Philly would get the ball back.
For almost 2:30, Chamberlain failed to score and now only 2:45 remained.
But then he made three consecutive free throws and sank a long, fade-away jumper to push his total to 94. Rodgers fed him again for a jumper and Wilt followed with a dunk to reach 98 as the clock reached 1:19.
With the fans screaming, Chamberlain intercepted an in-bounds pass but missed the shot. The Knicks held possession until the shot-clock was about to expire.
The Knicks then converged upon Chamberlain in the pivot. He missed two straight shots, but teammate Ted Luckenbill retrieved both. After the second, Luckenbill passed to Joe Ruklick, who fed Wilt for what was described by the radio announcer as a Dipper Dunk. With 46 seconds to play, he had reached the unreachable, 100 points.
"I still wonder how he did it," says Michael Jordan, who knows the tale well.
"There's no way I'd have the stamina to get 100. I don't see how anyone could. It's not possible, physically. I couldn't withstand the beating I'd take running up and down court for 48 minutes."
Maybe, maybe not. Against Denver's invisible defense, who knows?