Story of the Week
Who is the greatest basketball center of all-time? Without getting into this debate, there is certainly one who would get lots of votes, especially East Coast votes. I don’t rate him the best, but I do rate Bill Russell one of the best who ever played that position.
Russell is the quintessential example of my personal strong feeling in sports; offense is pretty and necessary, but defense wins. During his entire 13 NBA seasons, 1957-1969, he averaged 15.1 points per game on offense, not exactly a number that jumps off the page. But that’s not why Bill Russell is in the Basketball Hall of Fame. He’s there, pure and simple, for defense and leadership. He’s there because he made the Boston a better team; he was the floor general of that team, and commanded the respect of every player on the Celtics.
Russell set few individual records, none for offense, and spent remarkably little time holding onto the basketball. Yet in 13 NBA seasons, Russell’s Celtics won the league championship on 11 occasions. His University of San Francisco college team was two-for-three in winning NCAA tournament titles, and won 55 straight games in his junior and senior years. He was also one-for-one in Olympic gold medal triumphs.
Bill Russell was intimidating in the paint. Not particularly tall at 6’-9" as centers go, he had a great wing span and was extremely agile and quick. I would be very curious to know how many shots-per-game he blocked; that was not a recordable stat back then. But this surely was; Russell averaged an incredible 22.6 rebounds per game. (FYI, Wilt Chamberlain averaged an even more incredible 22.9 rebounds per game during his NBA career, and obliterated every NBA offensive record along the way.)
Celtics’ coach Red Auerbach was and is a pompous you-know-what, but I give him credit for evaluating talent. I do, however, believe that it was Bill Russell who made that team the dominating group it was. He was its leader, and his sheer presence was so influential. If you were a Celtic, you had best play to win, or Mr. Russell would be your judge and jury. That, sports fans, is precisely what a team needs in its leader. That Celtics dynasty is one the likes of which will never again be seen in the NBA.
It was Russell’s demeanor that forever got in the way of unconditional acceptance. From the start, he was a proud and private man, and that pride was evident on the court as well as in his oppressed black race. And this in a city that was not exactly known for racial tolerance. Despite all of his heroism in Boston, he was the player who personified unpopular racial rebellion, something I greatly respect in the man.
Was he the greatest NBA center of all-time, as some think? That is a highly debatable topic. But no NBA center, or NBA player for that matter, will ever be able to boast 11 championship rings as does the legendary Bill Russell.
Last Week’s Trivia
The four managers of both the Yankees and the Mets are Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Joe Torre and the least remembered of the four, Dallas Green.
Trivia Question of the Week
Thanks to Alan D’Andrea and George Ostfeld, my Vegas buddies, for this question. He is the only MLB player to ever hit two grand slams in the same inning. It’s even more incredible that the same pitcher surrendered both homers; what an ERA he compiled for the day! Name the two players. See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.