Bill Russell Overrated?

Bill Russell

If you are a fan of basketball or have played it, I’m positively sure that you know of Bill Russell. For those who don’t, NBA legend Bill Russell has won the most championships in NBA History. The basis of his career is the 11 titles he won in 13 career seasons, earning him the greatest champion in American professional team sports history.

However, I think his rings kinda over exaggerate how good of a basketball player he was. Russell had a stellar career average of 15.1 ppg, 22.5 rpg, and 4.3 apg. He received 12 all-star team selections, five MVP awards, and an Olympics gold medal in 1956. Russell would have most likely also taken home at least a dozen Finals MVP medals if the NBA had them when he was playing.

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Russell’s 11 rings cannot be taken away, but are his 11 titles more spectacular than Michael Jordan’s six or Magic Johnson’s five? Russell played in a time when there were around 10 less NBA teams. Although some would contend that each team had a more focused talent pool, the talent archived back then does not match that of today’s game.

Todays Game

The NBA teams today brings much more players from the US and internationally. Not only did the era Bill Russell played in had fewer teams but there was also less playoff games. With that being noted, Bill Russell played fewer games along with shorter seasons that automatically gives him the advantage of being more durable then Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Russell also had the luxury of having a stacked team with yet to be future hall of famers John Havlicek, KC Jones, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, Bon Cousy, and Bill Sharman.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics teams had a far higher level of potential generally than other teams throughout his era. In three different finals, each requiring seven games, Boston narrowly overcame the Lakers despite their incredible talent. Bill Russell’s offensive statistics appear to be average at first sight. He averaged 15.1 points a game while making 44 percent of his field goals and 56 percent of his free throws, so his offensive performance wasn’t exactly stellar. One may argue that because he was playing with a cast of other all-stars, he played more of a team game and was not expected to score as much. However, a close examination of his offensive performance paints a different image. Comparing various NBA eras is, at best, challenging, but let’s look at some numbers.

Early Days

The NBA’s foul lane was just 12 feet wide for the first eight years of Russell’s career. Bill Russell only averaged 12.6 points per game when the NBA extended the lane to 16 feet in 1964—hardly impressive stats. Players in Russell’s period were shorter, thinner, and less athletic than players today, he had a huge edge over them despite his exceptional athleticism and vertical leap. There were just four NBA players taller than 6-8 when Wilt Chamberlain joined the league in 1960. (including Wilt at 7’1 Russell at 6’9). Bill Russell was a fantastic winner. Russell left a lasting impression on the floor as a great rebounder, defender, and leader. Russell cannot be ranked among the greatest players ever using the criteria I suggested since, despite his many victories and superior defensive abilities, he lacked attacking brilliance.


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