The gymnasium at Len Chappell’s alma mater bears his name.
Newspaper clippings and trinkets from his days as a high school, collegiate and professional basketball player are also not that hard to find when one steps away from the hardwood at Portage Area High School.
While nearly six decades have passed since his last game as a Mustang, the mark he’s left on the community through his exploits in gyms big and small is apparent – even if the origins of his trademarked line-drive shot came while the 6-foot-8 Chappell was developing and perfecting his game during the winters in a low-ceiling barn alongside his then-home in Martindale.
“The barn is all but broken down now, but I still have the arcless jumper,” Chappell said in a story published in the March 28, 1964 edition of The Tribune-Democrat.
Even if the jumper was flat, his rise to prominence in the region and throughout the state was meteoric.
While at Portage, Chappell scored 2,240 points – with 977 coming during his senior season, when his 37.7 points per game ranked second in the nation among all scholastic players according to a study conducted local sports historian and statistician Steve Seman, as published in The Tribune-Democrat on May 9, 1958. Those numbers – and Portage’s 23-3 mark during the 1957-58 season – were enough to net him Associated Press Pennsylvania all-scholastic team honors.
For all the feats accomplished by Chappell while leading the Mustangs, his best days in basketball may have come while at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he scored 2,165 points and had 1,213 rebounds in three seasons, twice earning Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year honors.
Chappell averaged 30.1 points a game and led the Demon Deacons to the 1962 Final Four. His collegiate career saw him net first-team all-America selections in 1961 and 1962 by the Basketball Writers of America, the Associated Press and Newspaper Enterprise Association – all while setting the three-year scoring record of 2,165 points at Wake Forest.
Those accomplishments were enough to make Chappell the fourth overall pick in the 1962 NBA draft, taken by the Syracuse Nationals. He was also picked by the Pittsburgh Rens of the American Basketball League.
Chappell played 591 games in the NBA with the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers franchise, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Cincinnati Royals, Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks between 1962 and 1971. Chappell ended his pro hoops days during the 1971-72 season, playing with the ABA’s Dallas Chaparrals. He made five playoff appearances during his stops with the Nationals, Royals, Pistons, Bucks and Chaparrals.
A versatile performer, who played all three positions near the basket during his pro career, Chappell averaged 9.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in the NBA while contributing 7.7 points per game during his lone season in the ABA.
His most prolific season was his first with the Knicks in 1963-64, when he averaged 17.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.