Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point basketball and Muhammad Ali’s Olympic gold medal will be the topic in the Smithsonian Channel series ‘Sports Detectives’ on May 29 and June 5 respectively. In the show, top investigator Kevin Barrows and sports reporter Lauren Gardner collaborate to discover sports artifacts that have gone missing.
“It gives you the opportunity to bring that audience back to that moment, that transcendent moment of sports and also a great mystery about what happened to the central artifact from those moments,” Charles Poe, vice president of production at the Smithsonian Channel.
The TV show asked, “what happened to the basketball Chamberlain used to score his 100th point?” only to find conflicting postgame stories from a spectator and one of Chamberlain’s teammates.
“Wilt as a figure in history came on the scene in the NBA when the NBA was not remotely what it is today,” Poe said. “He was this transformative, revolutionary figure.”
In Ali’s autobiography “The Greatest,” he talks about how he was denied service at a diner in Louisville, Kentucky due to his race. The event upset Ali to the point where he took the gold medal he won in the 1960 Olympics and tossed it in the Ohio River. It is rumored that the story is untrue.
“He told that iconic story of throwing the gold medal in the Ohio River it’s a really powerful story, true or not,” Poe said. “It’s an incredible story of a guy who became controversial and then ended up probably one of the most beloved sports figures of all time.”
In order to discover the lost items, the two investigators depended on word of mouth, archival searches, photography, and other methods. The hosts of the show traveled to the Hershey Arena in Hershey, Pennsylvania where the 100-point game took place and the location of the Louisville diner that denied Muhammad Ali service.
Both artifacts gained relevance in the early 1960’s, during the Civil Rights movement era. Wilt Chamberlain used his athleticism to standout when a small number of African Americans were given the opportunity to play. Ali believed earning a gold medal in the Olympics would cause white Americans to treat him equally.
“Nowadays, people think athletes as heroes, just for their achievements they done on the field or on the court or in the boxing ring. Ali became a hero well beyond athletics,” Poe said. “A lot of people get fixated on sports, but life is bigger and broader than sports and Ali transcended sports.”
The episode featuring Wilt’s 100-point ball will premiere on May 29th at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT and the season finale featuring Ali’s gold medal will premiere on June 5th at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on the Smithsonian Channel.