Bill Russell Is NOT Overrated?

Richard TanzilContributor IJanuary 14, 2010

This is for those who think Russell is overrated...

Bill Russell is the greatest basketball player of all time.

BR: 5 MVP's and 11 rings.
MJ: 5 MVP's and 6 rings.

and the fact that the Finals MVP Award was named after Bill Russell is NBA subtle way of acknowledging the fact that Russell would have won that award many many times had it been given during his time (West won the first Finals MVP even though his team lost to Russell's Celtics in '69, which was Russell's last year).

Russell stats go UP during the Playoffs and he set the Finals rebounding record mark of 40 TWICE . . . . both in Game 7's.

Russell is the GOAT.

Back in 1980 where there 23 teams during the NBA's 35th anniversary when Russell was voted by basketball writers , experts and pundits as the Greatest Player of All Time, the argument that Russell played in a "weak era" because he played in an 8 team league or there were plenty of white guy back then etc. was NEVER brought up.

Maybe because it was a STUPID argument to begin with.

To clear somethings first, the 24-sec. shotclock was already in place in 1954. The 3 second rule was introduced in 1936. Illegal defense was already in place since 1947. Defensive goaltending was instituted way back during Mikan's college days (pre-1950's). Offensive goaltending was instituted during Russell's senior year in college (1956).

On Russell having NO "all around skills" . . . .

Before somebody oversimplifies the game of basketball by limiting its skill aspects to simply "offense" and "defense" Im gonna put his in. There are actually four main skill aspects in basketball (and even this is an oversimplification): scoring (shooting, post ups etc.), defense, rebounding, ball movement(passing, dribbling).

Russell is an awesome rebounder averaging 22rpg, a suprisingly good ball handler for a big man since he often runs the ball after rebounding to get a clear pass downcourt and start the fastbreak, and of course a great defender. He is also a great passer; he consistently ranks in the top 10 assists and thats beyond what you would expect from a center. Not most guards could do that. His scoring is alright at 15ppg on 13FGA. Not exactly mind blowing numbers but then EVERYONE on the 60's Celtics doesnt have mind blowing PPG. Red Auerbach runs a structured offense wherein all five guys on the floor have the opportunity to shine and score. The highest scorer on the team averages only 22ppg and there are five to six other guys scoring in double digits. Russell or anyone else on the Celtics need not to fully exert themselves on offense because the scoring is distributed. Russell has the same shooting percentage as the top two scorers (Sam Jones and Havlicek) on the team. Anyway back in college, Russ was scoring 20ppg with a 52FG%.

The Celtics often has no one in the top 10 PPG but in return has two guys Russell and Cousy (or KC Jones) in the assists department.

To wit, Russell is an awesome rebounder, an awesome defender, a great passer and ball handler especially for someone of his size and position, and a decent scorer. . . . . and people still call him as having no all around game? Magic has a career average of less than 20PPG, but no one is using that an excuse to discredit his "all around game".

Anyway, players playing as centers or power forwards - the tall guys usually - are drilled to have specialized skills (like rebounding and low post manouvers). They help the team better by focusing on these skills which is why they are usually NOT ENCOURAGED to have all-around skills like guards and forwards. There are exceptions of course like Wilt and Russell who are often found in the top ten in assists, a stat usually reserved for guards. Using the argument "so and so guard/forward has more all around skills than so and so center/PF, therefore so and so guard/forward is greater" is FLAWED and BIASED.

You cant use Jordan's or anyone else's "all around game" as an excuse to put him over Russell in a GOAT debate.

On Russell playing in a weak era . . . .

The level of competition in Russell's era in the 60's is exceptionally tougher. Why? Because the level of competition is dependent on the quality of players on the League NOT on the quantity. And during that time, the talent is concentrated into just 8-9 teams.

The top talent in the 90's are diluted into 30 teams which makes for weak competition.

The NCAA and NIT (when it still mattered) was concentrated in only 8-9 teams. The 24th pick of the 1st round today would be the final pick of the 3rd round in the 60's. Only the cream of the crop get to play in the NBA in the 60's. To cite an example, Russell would face off Wilt Chamberlain 8-9 times a season. When he is not fighting Wilt, he is fending off other Hall of Famers 8-9x again like Nate Thurmond, Jerry Lucas, Willis Reed etc. you get the drift. They have to work their butts off almost everytime.

In contrast in the 90's, Shaq only facedoff with Ewing in the East 4x and faces-off with Hakeem and Robinson in the West 2x.

Russell and Wilt dueled 142x during a ten year period. Compared that to Bird and Magic who for close to eleven years, only dueled 37x. The top players in the 60's face an opponent worthy of his abilities MORE OFTEN.

During the 90's, there were 6 teams that were added into the League. Thats 72 slots for less talented players to fill. Players who wouldve been cutoff at training camp in the 80's.

And oh, the average height of centers back then in the 60's is 6'10, the same as Russell's height. The sixties having 6'6 centers is an urban legend.

On Russell having great teammates . . . .

The Celtics are loaded with Hall of Famers because almost every other team in the League in the 60's are LOADED also with Hall of Famers.

Like i mentioned before, talent are concentrated in the 60's. Multiple Hall Of Famers are the norm unlike in the 90's were the top teams only got 1 or two Hall of Famers in the roster.

The St. Louis Hawks have:
Bob Petit
Ed Macauley
Slater Martin
Cliff Hagan
*Clyde Lovellete
and Lenny Wilkens in later years

San Francisco/ Philadelphia Warriors
Neil Johnston
Paul Azirin
Tom Gola
Nate Thurmond
Rick Barry

Syracuse Nationals/ Philadelphia 76ers
Red Kerr
Dolph Schayes
Hal Greer
Frank(?) Costello
Billy Cunningham

Minneapolis/LA Lakers
Vern Mikkelsen
Gail Goodrich

Rochester Royals (Sac Kings)
Jack Twyman
Oscar Robertson
Jerry Lucas

To debunk the myth that Bill Russell only won championships because of his talented teammates . . . . .

The Celtics NEVER went to the NBA Finals before Russell even with Hall Of Famers like Coach Auerbach and players like Macauley, Cousy, Sharman, and Ramsey.

Andy Philip, Clyde Lovellette and Arnie Risen DID NOT play their Hall of Fame game in Boston. Think of Hakeem Olajuwon during his past his prime Toronto Raptors days.

Andy Philip played only 2 years in Boston and was known more for his time in Fort Wayne. Arnie played only 3 years and spent the bulk of his career in Rochester. Clyde played only 2 years and is more known as a St. Louis player.

Back in the '62 season, Russell took himself out for 4 games and the Celtics lost 4 straight games even with Red Auerbach, Cousy, Sharman, the Joneses, Ramsey and other HoF's.

Back in '69, Russell took himself out for 5 games because of an injury and the Celtics lost 5 straight even with HoF's Sam Jones, Havlicek, Satch Sanders, and Bailey Howell.

The instances that i mentioned are the two worst losing streaks of the Russell-era Celtics. The latter is the worst losing streak of the Celtics since Red Auerbach took over the helm.

When Russell retired after the '69 season, the Celtics went down from 48 wins to 34 and they MISSED the Playoffs even with HoF's such as Havlicek, Sanders, Jo Jo White and Howell. A huge 14 game drop.

And the modest 48 wins that the Celtics garnered during the '69 season is the lowest number of wins that the Celts have during the Russell -era and occured only because Russell spent a lot of time in the injured list and/or recovering.

Theoretically speaking, the Celtics with an "Allstar" cast like that should be able to shrug off Russell's departure and continue the Celtic dynasty, in reality, they couldnt.

The Celtic dynasty started and ended, at least the first part pre-Cowens, Silas etc., of the 70's with Bill Russell.

Russell has 5 rings w/o Cousy. He also has 5 rings
without Havlicek. He also has 2 rings without Red Auerbach as coach.

How many rings does Jordan have without Pippen and Phil Jackson? How come that Chicago only suffered a 2 point deficit in the Win-loss column when Jordan first retired in 1994? How come Pippen was able to lead a Jordan-less Bulls to the eastern Conference Finals?

Russell won 3 championships without Heinsohn and KC, 2 of which came as PLAYERcoach. Heinsohn by the way only won the '56 ROY because Bill was taken out of the running in all awards on his rrokie year because he signed his contract mid way into the season and played only half a season. KC who was drafted in '56 but only joined in 1958 because of Army Service, also was a bench player for the first four years.

Sam Jones was a member of 10 Celtic championship teams but he was a bench warmer for the first four of those teams. He wasnt even the Sixth man of those teams.

Russell brings out the best out of his teammates. He creates Hall Of Famers out of his teammates.

This is what Wilt thinks whenever people say that Russell only won because of his HoF teammates:

"That team (the Celtics) wasn't so great until he got there. Once he got there, he (Bill Russell) was the piece that they were looking for. A lot of people have said to me, "Wilt, what if you had that team? Boy, you would never have lost!" NOT TRUE. If I was on their team, I would be taking away from some of what the other guys were doing. Everybody had a role on that team. (Tom) Heinsohn wouldn't be getting the same number of shots, nor would (Bill) Sharman, nor would (Bob) Cousy because I'd be shooting the ball a whole lot more. Bill Russell gave them just what they needed. I would've given them a little bit more in certain things, which I think would have made the team NOT AS GOOD. I've always believed that he made that team exactly what it was supposed to be. And you couldn't get any better."

- Wilt Chamberlain - third paragaraph from, Q: Can you talk more about Bill?

"There are two types of superstars. One makes himself look good at the expense of the other guys on the floor. But there's another type who makes the players around him look better than they are, and that's the type Russell was."

-- Don Nelson interview on the Boston Herald

Bill Russell brings out the best and creates Hall of Famers out of his teammates. If anything, Russell-coached Celtic's track record against the more stacked 76ers in 1968 and Lakers of '69 which has more Hall of famers and/or more players in their prime showed that Russell could LEAD his team to victory even at a disadvantage talent-wise.

Russell couldve just give up and used Wilt and Oscar's excuse for not winning: the opponent has the better team but Russell didnt. He has no time for such flimsy excuses.

Stat machines (and their supporters) have the tendency to blame EVERYBODY but themselves (or thier idol) when their team under-performs.

Stat-hogs try to single-handedly CARRY the team at the expense of wrecking team chemistry. Leaders LEAD the team and brings out the best out of his teammates.

If i were rebuilding a bottom-feeding team like the Clippers, i rather pick a leader like Steve Nash rather than a ball-hog with stats-a-plenty like Allen Iverson.


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