When talking about the greatest winners in sports history very few names come before Bill Russell. However when his name comes up in the goat debate the conversation may go on for a couple of minutes but then he gets shrugged off for a variety of reasons that I’ll address today.
One of many things people like to hold against Bill Russell is the fact that there were only eight teams in the league when he played. People bring this point up as if it has a negative effect on the competition that was faced in this era. The way I see It’s more logical to comprehend it this way, there only being 8 teams allowed for the best players in the World to be on the court every night. While the 30 team league of today makes for a more diverse NBA it also dilutes and stretches the talent pool thin. When Russell played all 8 teams had multiple stars and there was fewer bottom dwellers than now . It was harder to make a team back then compared to now as seen with Kwame Brown. Kwame Brown was able to carve out a 10 year career in todays league while back then quite frankly he wouldn’t have lasted.
Someone whom doesn’t do much research on Bill Russell might state that he played with 11 hall of famers. While this is true it severely ignores context,Which is extremely important when evaluating the careers of NBA legends. To counteract this statement I went through and evaluated every single hall of fame player that Bill Russell played with.
Andy Phillip averaged a whopping 3.9 points per game over his 2 seasons played with Bill Russell. Over the course of his whole career he averaged 9 points per game. In fact his nba career wasn’t very hall of fame worthy at all but since its the Basketball hall of fame he was inducted for his college career. Bob Cousy was a baller and essentially the 60s version of John Stockton. A great Ball handler who could set up players to score while also scoring for himself; all t while playing great defense. Over the 7 seasons Cousy played with Russell he averaged 18 points per game and 8 assists while capturing 6 championships. Bill Sharman averaged 20 points per game over the 5 years he played with Russell. Frank Ramsey averaged 13.9 points per game over 8 seasons but he won 7 rings. John Havilichek was the man and the go to scorer over his 7 years with the great Bill Russell. Havlichek averaged 21 points per game on his way to 8 championships. Sam Jones averaged 17.4 points per game over 12 years with Bill Russell. Clyde Lovelette averaged 6.6 points per game over 2 seasons. K.C. Jones averaged 7.4 points per game over 9 seasons. But KC Jones won 7 rings. Baily Howell was one of the better players Russell played with and he averaged 20 points per game over 3 seasons. Arnie Risen is the final hall of fame player Russell played with and he averaged 7 points per game but he was apart of one of the leagues greatest dynasties. The Basketball hall of fame isn’t very hard to make today but back then all it took was an all star appearance. Still a lot of these players had subpar careers outside of the fact they won Multiple rings as apart of the leagues most winningest team.
Bill Russell was a man of many strengths, however many people like to criticize his offensive game. In the case of many people offense has been dumb downed and limited to simply scoring when there’s much more to this side of the game. Simply put there are 3 categories on the offensive side of the basket; Along with scoring there’s play making, and rebounding. Bill Russell over his illustrious 13 year career averaged 15.1 points per game, 22.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 44 percent from the field. Russell’s 15.1 points per game scoring average is only 9 points less than Lew-Alcindor’s and this was on 6 less attempts per. Many people know Alcindor as one of the greatest scorers of all time with him being more commonly known as Kareem Abdul -Jabbar. Russell was an excellent passer and was constantly among the top 10 leaders in assist especially when Cousy retired. The loss of Cousy left the Celtics without a true floor general so more often that not they ran their offense through Bill Russell whom excelled in this role. As previously mentioned Russell averaged 22.5 rebounds per game which is good for second all time just slightly behind Wilt Chamberlain. Offensive and defensive rebounds weren’t differentiated but solely based on his rebounding averages it safe to assume he had the 3rd and final categories of offense more than covered. Red Auerbach ran a system far ahead of it’s time where not one player would rack up the majority of the points but rather his system emphasized ball movements and unselfishness.
All in all when discussing the legendary career of Bill Russell it’s ok to not have him as the goat. In fact I don’t have him as the goat but without a shadow of a doubt he’s top 10. When debating Bill Russell don’t bash him for not putting up great individual scoring numbers and completely ignore the numerous strengths he possessed. And remember when debating great players context is key….