The NBA’s greatest winner since its creation, all-time defender, leader of a dynasty whose domination is still unequaled, Bill Russell undoubtedly has the necessary arguments to sit at the table of the greatest players in the the history of our sport. But concretely, what place does the pivot of the Celtics occupy in the latter? It is time to take out our magnifying glasses to look into the question.
This is a question we would have liked to ask ourselves in other circumstances. After the death of Bill Russell last night at the age of 88, the memories, anecdotes, accomplishments of the latter all resurface together to remind us of how the center of the Celtics was an extraordinary player, both literally and figured. For some, Whiskers is the greatest player in NBA history because he has won the most titles. Audible reasoning, but far too simplistic. For others, he shouldn’t even be in this discussion because of the era he was playing in, the level of play of which is apparently insignificant. Audible reasoning, but far too simplistic too. Throughout his life, Bill Russell never ceased to stand out, becoming an orange ball legend in many ways.
Already, as the vast majority of fans probably know, Billou remains to this day the human who has won the most NBA championship titles, with eleven bagouzes on his fingers in just thirteen seasons. IThere is still a very strong chance that no one will be able to achieve such a performance. And we don’t even mention the fact that out of these eleven banners, eight of them were hung in a row from the ceiling of the TD Garden. When we see that even Stephen Curry’s Warriors fail to achieve a three peat…And then let’s not forget that at the time, no Finals MVP was named. If Michael Jordan can therefore today boast of being the only one to have been named six times, there is a world where Mister Russell has almost twice as many. Because yes, whether we like it or not, The Stuffer is the undisputed leader of one of the greatest dynasties in history, or at least the most victorious: the Celtics of the 60s. of the best teams, inevitably, it puts you the guy in the highest strata of the big League.
Perhaps more than anyone else, Bill knew what it took to win and what it took to lead. On the court, he was the greatest champion in basketball history. Off of it, he was a civil rights trailblazer—marching with Dr. King and standing with Muhammad Ali.
—Barack Obama (@BarackObama) July 31, 2022
And if there were only the rings… Individually, The Good Lord was named MVP five times, a fairly closed club since he is accompanied only by MJ (5) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6). Apart from his rookie season where he is warming up, he will be named All-Star each season, twelve times. Beyond the purely technical aspect, it is therefore a real recognition that benefits the pivot, that of a player who, despite an oiled workforce behind him, is considered a monster in his own right. Wilt Chamberlain may have turned 50/25 during the 1961-62 season, but it was Bilou who was named MVP because he was the boss. The boss, he always was, whatever the circumstances. In 1968 then 1969, he even allowed himself to become the first man to become champion as a player AND coach. The Shaq himself confesses that he would never dare to compare himself to his predecessor. Because who would dare to say that what he achieved was simple? Who would dare to say that without him, the C’s would have dominated so much? There are questions that we are entitled to ask ourselves, but there are also truths that we cannot question.
To the other way around, so there are things we can’t pretend not to see. Yes, there is more talent in the NBA than there was back then. But what could be more normal since nearly 60 years have passed, and the guys were playing in Converse at 40,000 an hour. There is no need to compare, so we will agree on that. But we can analyze, dissect, and realize that in an era also populated by potential Hall of Famers, Billou dominated as few have done. In defense? We are probably talking about the boy who made it essential to win titles. If the counters were counted? We can tell you that we know someone who blacked out the stat line. And when you’re the first to do something that’s become commonplace today, you’re quite simply a forerunner, a trailblazer who paved the way for a new form of basketball, a whole new sport in fact. So yes, Bill Russell wasn’t a flamboyant forward – just 15.1 career ppg at 44% shooting – but in his style he was the best. With 21,620 catches, he is the second-highest rebounder in NBA history. The only player in the top 10 to never have reached 1,000 games played, he is nonetheless far ahead of the illustrious Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, third. As so often in the field, only Wilt Chamberlain manages to stand up to him.
All this being said, what do these elements indicate when it comes to ranking the best players who have played in the NBA?
Bill Russell’s career is arguably something that will never happen twice. Pivots obviously outrageously dominated the game, from his rival Wilt Chamberlain to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, not forgetting of course Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal. What else does Russell have? Of course, titles. In the majority of cases, individual distinctions too. We know it well enough: classifying a player according to his trophies is one criterion, but he is not the only one. In the contribution to the sport and the league, Bill Russell very clearly has more cards. Of course, it preceded the other names written above, but they also and above all paved the way. In an NBA that was light years away from that of the others too, but its dominance and the advance over its time were just indecent. Without Russell? The NBA would not have taken the notion of defense so quickly, with so much interest. The man has made it essential to be efficient when it comes to protecting his basket. The place he should occupy in an all time ranking is very subjective, but it would be anything but correct to place M’sieur Bill outside the top 10. When it comes time to make the Top 100 All Time, our two (h) experts Bastien and Alex have also placed The Stuffer in 7th and 6th position respectively. Again, it is up to everyone to make their choice, but very few players today can claim to be placed ahead of Russell in such a list.
From his first NCAA titles to official decorations for his entire work, Bill Russell will have left an indelible mark on the NBA, sport and even history with a capital “H”. If it is impossible to say the precise place he occupies in a ranking of the greatest players in the League, it is difficult to imagine such a legend outside the top 10, and some will even tell you that it is impossible to find five players who have scored more in basketball than him.
Source: NBA, ESPN