What do Kevin Grow and Wilt Chamberlain have in common?
Let’s start with Chamberlain, clearly one of the greatest basketball players in history.
A giant of a man, Chamberlain stood 7-foot-1 and weighed 275 pounds, though at the end of his career he weighed closer to 300. And he put up giant numbers.
In the 1961-62 season, he averaged — averaged — 50.4 points per game. He remains the only NBA player to score more than 4,000 points in a season or 100 points in a game.
And the year he averaged that half a hundred a game, he also averaged 48 1/2 minutes per game.
He holds NBA records for most rebounds in a game (55) and most consecutive field goals made (18). He still holds the career rebound record with 23,924, and the season record for field goal percentage (.727).
He led the league in scoring seven straight years, led in rebounding for 11 of his 14 years and even led the league in assists once. In 1960, he set the rookie scoring average record of 37.6, and won both the Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards.
Chamberlain dominated basketball to such an extent that he was responsible for several rule changes, including the widening of the lane, elimination of offensive goal tending, and new rules for inbounding and free throw shooting.
And in a Hall of Fame career that lasted from 1959 to 1973, he never fouled out of a game. Now, how about Kevin Grow?
Kevin stands a little over five feet tall. He’s a senior at Bensalem High School, just northeast of Philadelphia. Kevin played in all of two games in his high school career.
But that was quite an accomplishment. You see, Kevin was born with Down Syndrome.
He began serving as student manager for the basketball team during his freshman year. At the end of one practice, the players were shooting free throws with alarming inaccuracy. This resulted in the running of myriad suicide laps up and down the court.
Eventually, some players convinced coach John Mullin, the brother of former NBA star Chris Mullin, to allow Kevin to shoot a free throw. Kevin made the shot, and brought practice to an end.
It became a tradition. Practice could not end until Kevin made a free throw.
“Kevin changes people’s lives,” his father Earl told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He’s always been a kid who worked extra hard. My job is to just put him out in society and hope to hell everything works out.”
So far it has. “If you’re ever having a bad day, just go to Kevin,” classmate Jeffrey News told the Inquirer.
“In high school, everyone is a tough guy,” Mullin added. ”But then you have Kevin flying through the halls, giving you a giant bear hug. To Kevin, his world is his world. He doesn’t think he’s any different.”
Incredibly, Kevin has become one of the most popular kids in school. Girls ask him to go to dances. He eats lunch at the football players’ table.
“Twenty years ago, kids would have made fun of him,” Earl told the Inquirer. “But Kevin, he never has a bad day.”
And then Kevin took things to another level. On Feb. 7, Mullin finally let Kevin into a game. A real game. He managed to make a free throw and a layup, and the gym erupted.
That was nothing compared to the next night, senior night, the season’s final game. Mullin sent Kevin into the game with two minutes to go and Bensalem holding a comfortable lead over Neshaminy.
Kevin proceeded to drain four 3-pointers, and finished as his team’s leading scorer with 14 points. His final trey, a buzzer-beater, evoked applause from the Neshaminy players. Kevin wound up in the middle of a mob of thrilled teammates, jumping up and down and slapping him on the head.
“He’s a gift from God,” observed Mullin. “He really is.”
“It was exciting enough just to see him walk out on that court and have his moment,” his mom Dorothy told 6ABC-TV. “But the fact that he was hitting those shots, it’s still unbelievable.”
As unbelievable as what came next. Kevin became a YouTube sensation. Then he was signed to an honorary contract by the 76ers. He got to practice with the team and actually suit up for their February 18 game against the Cavs.
“By far, Kevin’s favorite team is the Sixers,” Kevin’s sister Laura told NBA.com. “He was so excited just to be able to come down here and see practice. But to be part of the team, and when we got downstairs to see all the media there, it was even more of a surprise. It’s just such a neat experience!”
And if that wasn’t enough, now the Harlem Globetrotters have signed Kevin to a special contract as their “3-point specialist” and he’s going to get to play with them this Sunday. Which brings us back to Wilt Chamberlain. Now he and Kevin are the only two players to have been members of both the Sixers and the Globetrotters. And that’s pretty dog-gone cool.
Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His column appears on Wednesday.