All Bill Russell did during his NBA career was win. One of the greatest players and perhaps the game's best defender, Russell won an amazing 11 championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics (1957, 1959-66, 1968-69). At the beginning of the 1967 season, the Celtics named Russell to succeed Red Auerbach as head coach, making him the first black NBA head coach. Russell served as player/coach from 1967 to 1969, and led Boston to the 1968 and 1969 NBA titles, his 10th and 11th. He currently serves as a consultant for the Boston Celtics. He recently shared his thoughts on the upcoming NBA playoffs.

Q: Popular belief is that the team that comes out of the West will win the title. Your thoughts?

Bill Russell shoots over Bob Pettit during the 1965 season.
Dick Raphael
NBAE Photos
Russell:
They just finished the Final Four and the teams that were supposed to win didn't. You cannot know who is going to win and how they are going to play because these are different circumstances. What happens is everybody in the playoffs tightens up. Some guys, it makes better and some guys, not. You have no way of telling.

During the regular season, the athletes win. During the playoffs the basketball players win. You have to have a better game because you are playing against better competition. At this point, it seems to be that the Eastern Conference plays more of a finesse game and the Western Conference is more power. When you look at it like that, the power seems to be the dominant thing, but that's not necessarily the case. I think the teams in the East have just as good of a chance. In order to win, one team will have to impose its will on how the game is played. The team that wins will be the team that determines how the game is played.

Q: Who do you think is most capable of emerging from the East?

Russell: It seems like Charlotte lately has been pretty good at imposing its will, but New Jersey has been the most consistent. That's why they are in first place. The only thing that you don't know is, under playoff pressure, how assertive will they be? That's the best way of putting it. Boston, if they can play the game up-tempo, pretty much like New Jersey, and play defense and keep that coordinated, they can be a pretty good team. That's the way I see it.

Q: Can you elaborate about Boston's chances?

Russell: Obviously, I'm a fan of Boston. But when I look at what the outcome will be I have to be objective. I have to look at it truthfully. I like the Celtics. I like the progress that they've made. If they can determine the pace of the game, they can beat anybody. But only if they can determine the pace of the game.

Q: Boston was very high on rookie Joe Johnson, but they traded him to Phoenix for veterans Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk. Does that mean Boston felt it was close to competing for the Eastern Conference title?

Russell: I think they felt that they had turned the corner and were one of the teams that can compete. At first, I wondered [about the trade] myself. But I go to games all the time and I watch the game all the time. So, I have a take on how teams are evolving. After I watched Boston play maybe a dozen times with the new guys, it seems like that could be a pretty good deal. And I think Rodney Rogers helps a lot. It gives them a first guy off the bench that can and doesn't mind shooting.

Q: Talk a little about the Pistons. Ben Wallace would seem like your type of player.

Russell: Sort of reminds you of Dennis Rodman in terms of the impact, even though they don't look the same. Although, the hair I enjoy watching skilled players no matter what their skills are. He does a lot of good things for that team. But the key for Detroit is Jerry Stackhouse. I've seen him evolve from strictly a shooter pretty much the same way Michael [Jordan] did in Chicago. [He's] a guy that obviously wants his team to win.

Q: The Nets made a lot of changes this season and surprised a lot of people. Please talk about their changes and their prospects in the postseason.

Russell: They are a fun team to watch and, you know, Jason Kidd is from Oakland and I'm from Oakland. I'm really glad for him to be having the kind of year he is having. New Jersey is a good team, but I'm not sure about them, yet.

I look at them and I see them play very well. But I don't see consistency throughout the lineup. The players sometimes play very well and sometimes they play not well. It's almost like mood swings, individually. You wonder how they react to the playoff pressure. I hope it's good and it probably will be.

Q: Philadelphia is without Allen Iverson and Toronto is without Vince Carter. What about the chances of teams five through eight?

Russell: It is going to be difficult. Toronto's gotten into a groove. Well, that groove can very easily become a rut. Teams five through eight, they have a battle on their hands. The question will come up, how strong are they? Are their skills varied enough?

Q: How did you prepare your teams for the postseason? What are teams gearing up for?

Russell: I have a lopsided view of that because there never was a question about us being in the playoffs. Sometimes we had a bye and sometimes we had to start the next day. What I did as a player-coach in the playoffs was prepare my team for the next game, one game. It's only one game. You don't talk about winning three or four. All you worry about is the next game. Period. After that game, you start worrying about the next game. Period.