You already know that Bill Russell has enough championship rings to cover all ten of his fingers and still have one left over to put on his big…umm…toe. No need to mention that the Finals MVP trophy is named after him. Forget all the numbers: 12 straight All-Star games, 5 regular season MVPs, 5 rebounding titles, etc. Bill Russell really didn’t give a damn about numbers, and that’s not what he would want you to focus on when chronicling his career.
If you were to ask Russell what he thinks about the fact that he lead the league in Defensive Win Shares 11 times and is at the all-time leader despite playing only 13 seasons, he’d probably respond with something like, “What the hell is a defensive win share? I just played defense.”
But because so little video exists from that era, it’s hard to talk about Russell without using numbers. None of us can say for sure how Russell would translate to the modern NBA. We never got to see Russell and Kareem, the two greatest centers ever by any measurement, duke it out so we don’t really know who’s better (note: if you think Wilt was better than either of those two, you’re crazy). We need the numbers to see just how dominant Russell was, only, the numbers available don’t do Russell justice. They didn’t track stats that Russell would surely have been dominant in like Rb% and Defensive Rating. They didn’t even record blocks. So we’re stuck with Russell’s accolades and brief highlight reels or documentaries like the one below to remember Russell by.
Us NBA fans born after the Nixon Presidency will probably never be able to fully appreciate the how Russell blocked shots to his teammates to start the break, how he passed like a point guard, how he ran the break like a super-athletic small forward. But we’re going to try. So throughout the day we’ll be giving you a slew of Russell-themed posts.
Happy Bill Russell day!