Now, I realize that this sounds like a takedown piece on one of basketball’s forefathers but that is not the case here. Bill Russell is still one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game. He should be in everyone’s top ten, arguably top five. However in recent Jordan/LeBron debates, there has been a major argument on how championship titles alter the equation on who is the “greatest” among the greats. Individual stats, accomplishments, and championships all factor in.
With guys like Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, and others in the discussion, these guys have everything to be considered.
Though Russell doubles their championships, which is an amazing feat regardless of the semantics, the reason that he’s not considered “The Greatest” is because his individual stats aren’t nearly as good as the others included on the list. Besides his gaudy rebounding numbers, he doesn’t have the stats to beat his contemporaries. Despite his titles, you can’t be considered among the top three if you’ve never averaged 20 points per game. The most points per game that Russell averaged was 18.9 PPG in the 1961-62 season. I understand that he wasn’t a scorer, but being able to do both, or at least doing a little bit of everything, is a big reason as to why the same people are on everyone’s list.
Now, not only has Russell never averaged at least 20 points per game, but his field goal percentage was abysmal for his position. For a guy that was positioned, for the most part, in front of the basket, having a career field goal percentage of 44% is actually pretty bad. Since many argue that Russell and Chamberlain didn’t deal with competition at their height and position, a theory that has been disproven numerous times, how come Russell didn’t put up higher offensive numbers? He just wasn’t that good at it. It’s as simple as that. He wasn’t nearly as talented as Wilt Chamberlain. The reason he won more is simply because he had the talent around him that fit. Plus, he had six Hall of Famers on his team. It was the perfect spot for him to just focus on being the defensive anchor.
As he did so, he became the greatest defender of all time.
Also, though this isn’t his his fault, the NBA didn’t count blocks until the 1973-74 season. So though we know that Russell and Chamberlain were both prolific shot blockers, we technically have no stats to prove it. When comparing numbers to other players, one of the things that Russell was good at can’t even even be counted, pushing him down further.
Again, this is not a takedown of the great Bill Russell. He’s still a legend and one of the greatest in NBA history. This is just to show that even with all of his titles, Russell can’t be considered in the top three. This argument that LeBron fans use against Michael Jordan, saying “Well if it’s about rings, Jordan can’t be the greatest. It has to be Bill Russell by your logic, right?”.
It’s about stats, accomplishments, skill, and titles. Michael Jordan is the guy that has it all. Is Bill Russell the greatest winner in sports? Sure, he can have that unofficial title, but he’s nowhere near the G.O.A.T.
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