In 1954, at 17 years old, 7’1″ Wilt Chamberlain was already a basketball phenom. But the summer before his senior year of high school he took a summer job as a bellhop at Kutsher’s Country Club, a Jewish summer resort in the Catskills. In this new short video produced by Grantland we see Chamberlain charming guests as they checked in and out, carrying huge amounts of luggage in his fantastically long arms, and playing on the Kutsher’s basketball team in the evenings (coached by Red Auerbach).
Though it might seem an odd pairing, by all accounts Chamberlain loved his time at Kutsher’s, and came to think of Milton and Helen Kutsher as surrogate parents. He got so into the Kutsher’s spirit that he performed in the hotel’s talent shows, acting in skits and plays put on by the guests.
“Wilt the Stilt” was just the first of many sports celebrities who would take up summer residences in the Catskills. Kareem Abdul Jabar, Muhammad Ali, and Walt “Clyde” Frazier also did stints at Kutsher’s, but it’s Chamberlain who forged the way, ultimately making a surprising and strong bond with the community he found in the Borscht Belt.