Bill Russell: Nothing but a winner

Since the age of Michael Jordan led us into the age of Lebron James, it has become increasingly difficult to persuade doubters that Bill Russell tops the ballot for basketball’s Greatest of All Time.

In large part this is due to his playing his career in the age of grainy, black-and-white. Try explaining how the weather might affect TV reception, or that the lead to the rooftop antenna might need replacing.

Once their eyes glaze over, accept the fact that Russell has no ESPN Top 10 Plays to his credit, then hide behind your newspaper.

Jordan, James, and less accomplished ballplayers who wish they were them, have come to define the NBA. Not that these two men don’t have greatness in their souls. And they certainly are winners.

But Russell won the most. He was on two NCAA champions, an Olympic gold medal team, and the Boston Celtics that defined the word dynasty – 11 banners in 13 seasons.

Russell was not just along for the ride.

He fueled those championship teams. And he did it without much caring if his legacy would be recorded for posterity by lightning bolts of flash on highlight reels.

Had the Celtics needed Russell to be a scorer he unquestionably could have. But in perfecting the fast break, the Celtics needed him to play defense and rebound.

No one did it better.

Instead of sending a blocked shot sailing into the balcony, Russell had uncanny ability to find the nearest man wearing a Celtics jersey and get it to him, who then found another Celtic further up the floor then found a Celtic driving the lane, or open for a jumper.

Russell may not have been the engine for the fast break, but he was its main source of fuel.

And he instilled his teammates with a confidence that didn’t have to morph into any sort of showy swagger. There is a classic interview by Don Gillis, the great sportscaster for the old Ch. 5, in which he asks Russell about playing in another Game 7, this time on the opponent’s floor.

“We’ve done it before,” Russell responded, utterly deadpan.

Russell tended to his business like no one else.

Does that make him the greatest of all time?

He’d most likely be satisfied resting as the leading winner of all time.

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