Chat with Bill Russell
Bill Russell averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game during his NBA career. But the most staggering number associated with the Hall of Fame center is 11 -- as in his 11 rings.
John Havlicek didn't join the Celtics until 1962-63, and Bob Cousy retired at the end of that season. Red Auerbach stopped coaching in 1966. But Russell lined up at center for all 11 of Boston's NBA championship teams during a 13-year stretch from 1956-57 to 1968-69.
"Every day, we should get down on our knees and kiss one of Bill's 11 rings!" Cousy said during a Sept. 12 chat on Celtics.com.
Russell chatted live on NBA.com Sept. 15. Here's what he had to say:
Mark Sanders from Seattle at 1:01 p.m. ET
Bill, the Celtics seem like a family; what has made it like that? I mean, why do you guys still stay in contact with each other when most sports teams could care less?
Bill Russell at 1:02 p.m. ET
I think that was started with Walter Brown, Red Auerbach and Bob Cousy. I know when I arrived there, that was the atmosphere. And all the team captains have tried to maintain that.
For example, the Celtics started as a franchise in 1947, and through the last season and into this season I will have had a personal conversation with over 90 person of those who have played for the Celtics. And I'm not unique in that. I think the overall feeling is that the current players, no matter when they are current, are caretakers of the franchise. We think it's unique and that's one of the things that made the Celtics unique -- besides the winning.
J. Deits from Omaha, Neb. at 1:03 p.m. ET
This question comes to us via : What would you say is the biggest difference between the NBA when you played and
the NBA today?
Bill Russell at 1:10 p.m. ET
Well, the salaries for one! (Laughs) Actually, with rules changes over the years, some of the fundamentals have changed. Basically it's the same game. With expansion, in order to be competitive, the coaches have to go to fundamentals -- defensive setups especially. Most of the draft picks are selected for their offensive statistics. If you're a team playing the Lakers, how do you compete if you've lost more road games than you've won? You have to come up with defensive schemes to offset the talent. The fundamentals are still the same and the good teams play almost the same way we played.
With expansion, of course, there aren't enough players to fill all the rosters. For example, my fourth year in the league, I had four guards: Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, K.C. Jones and Frank Ramsey. All four of them are in the Hall of Fame. They wouldn't have the money to do that today.
K.C. Jones sat out 25 games one season as a coach's decision. That's how deep we were. Red Auerbach's top priority was to win, so he was always going to fill the slots to further that position. The better the teams, the more there aren't going to be enough minutes to go around. But with expansion, you can't have that kind of depth, because of the price structure.
Kevin Griffin at 1:10 p.m. ET
When was the last time you picked up a ball or played in a pickup game?
Bill Russell at 1:10 p.m. ET
I played one-on-one with my oldest son in 1972 at the Olympic Games.
I was a dedicated professional and I think -- and this may be a little off the wall -- but I think every player has "X" number of games in him. I felt I played the best number of games. Not too many and not too little. My mother used to always tell me to take care of myself. When I got to the age that I retired, basketball could have been -- and still is -- too demanding. The level at which I played, it was too much to keep going.
Superfan from Concord, N.H. at 1:13 p.m. ET
This question comes to us via : I heard you took Antoine Walker out to lunch last year. What type of advice did you give him, and is that something you plan to do with Antoine, Paul Pierce or any of the Celtics this season?
Bill Russell at 1:15 p.m. ET
Let's get a couple things squared away. Antoine took me out to lunch. He helped me fulfill one of my lifelong ambitions -- to have a really rich guy take me out to lunch!
Actually, I'm going to be at the Celtics' training camp when they open in October. I have a big interest in this team. I will always be a Celtic, and when I die, I'll be a late Celtic.
I find this a very interesting team and a good bunch of guys to be around. And when I say team, I'm including the coaches. The Celtics have never been two different units; just the Celtics -- one unit. Not different departments, one unit. For example, I'm going to go to training camp and be there for a while. And season tickets go on sale tomorrow. All that's part of the ambiance of being a Celtic. Of course our fans are part of this unit. We care about them and pay attention to them, because somebody's got to pay the bills!
Bobby B at 1:15 p.m. ET
Bill, did you get much satisfaction during your time as a coach and not a player? Or was it frustrating?
Bill Russell at 1:19 p.m. ET
It was fun. I can't recall that any time in my career as a basketball player or in basketball when I was frustrated. That's not part of my vocabulary. When things get difficult, to me it's not frustrating, it's adjusting to the situation and finding out what you can do about it. That's what I find to be the most interesting, to be in the situations and dealing with them.
I had a lot of fun as a coach, especially the four years I spent in Seattle. When I got here, the franchise was basically in shambles. They averaged about 4,600 fans in a building that held 14,600. The first year I was there, we averaged 14,100 fans. The year before I got there, they won 23 games. The first year I was there, we won 36 games with the same players.
Then I started to make some changes, changing the players and bringing in new people. The last draft I was there, we picked Dennis Johnson and Jack Sikma. Then in three years we had five No. 1 picks. Artistically, we were a competitive team; financially we had gone from 4,000 to 14,000 fans. But I will admit it was an adventure. It was a lot of fun and I got to work with some really good kids.
Aaron Burns at 1:20 p.m. ET
What were your battles with Chamberlain like?
Bill Russell at 1:25 p.m. ET
Very very interesting. And every game, theoretically it was supposed to be 48 minutes, but it usually took me about two days to play him. By the middle of the first quarter, you're thinking, "Won't this game ever get over?"
As great of a player as he was, I thought he was better than his reputation. Because I could see the things that he was doing routinely as so far beyond the ordinary. I always loved when we had doubleheaders and I could watch someone else getting hell.
He averaged 50 points one year! In one season! And I think that year he averaged something like 25 rebounds. If he only got 40 points and 15 rebounds, it was like an off night.
See, he and I were friends, although, the only two things we had in common were the fact that we were tall and that we played center. We played the position very differently. But we were both very successful. In a rivalry, one guy is vanquished, but neither of us were ever vanquished.
Did you know at halftime of every game, he had to change jerseys? Because the one he used in the first half would be so wet that it weighed a pound more. So he had to put on a dry one. That's how hard he was working. Most people think you just go out there and play. But it's a brutal position. It's hard work and very demanding. You get hit every four seconds. Guys are pushing and shoving, throwing elbows, screening them out. It's a very physical outing.
Scott from Tucson, Ariz. at 1:25 p.m. ET
Of the 16 NBA rings you won with the Celtics, which one do you take the most pride in?
Bill Russell at 1:26 p.m. ET
Well, I only won 11! My rookie year was a baker's year -- 13 months. I won the collegiate championship in March of '56, in April of '56 I won the gold medal in Melbourne and then in '57 I won an NBA championship. So that was the culmination of my big year.
In '69, I was player-coach, without an assistant. And I knew I was leaving. Over the years, when the guys retired, we always tried to make sure they retired as champions. That's what we did for our captains.
Rob at 1:27 p.m. ET
Are you going to watch Team USA play in Sydney, Australia?
Bill Russell at 1:27 p.m. ET
I'm leaving Sunday.
aaron n at 1:27 p.m. ET
What one teammate was the most fun to be around off the court?
Bill Russell at 1:29 p.m. ET
That's very difficult. I had an enormously great relationship with most of my teammates. I'd say 15 years after we both retired, Bill Sharman and I used to play golf once or twice a week. K.C. Jones was my roommate in college. Sam [Jones], the first year in training camp, he lived with me because you didn't have a guaranteed contract so he couldn't afford a place to stay.
We're all friends. It's not just that we were teammates, we're good friends. And there were other guys we played with over the years, we're in constant contact. That's just part of the way the Celtics are.
Aaron Burns from Valdese, N.C. at 1:29 p.m. ET
What's your favorite hobby?
Bill Russell at 1:31 p.m. ET
Two things I like to do: I like to play golf and I like to drive. I've driven cross-country maybe 47 times and I've driven in every state in the Union -- and that includes Hawaii and Alaska.
In the summer of '98, me and my wife drove from Seattle to Boston by way of the trans-Canadian highway. So we go out and take pictures of all the places in the country. So those are the two things we do -- besides watch Jeopardy and Star Trek! We watch Jeopardy every night and get 80 to 85 percent right on every show.
Sergi, Austria at 1:31 p.m. ET
Who is your favorite young player?
Bill Russell at 1:34 p.m. ET
Kevin Garnett. ... I think he's my favorite player to watch. I'm not saying he's the best player, because I don't get into that. He's fun to watch. He's a great athete and a great player. His enthusiasm and having a good time.
For me, there's a joy to playing basketball. Sometimes I'd be playing and I'd be having such a good time, I'd get a chill. So when I see players doing well and having fun and getting joy out of playing, I like that.
That was like at the All-Star Game in Oakland, I stayed at the same hotel as the players. So one night in the I got into the elevator and Kevin Garnett was in the elevator. So I said to him, "Tonight you've fulfilled one of my fondest dreams." And he said, "What's that Coach?" I said, "I get to ride in the elevator with a really rich guy!"
These are really good kids. Ninety-five percent of them are really fun to be around.
Johan Ferrer from the Philippines at 1:34 p.m. ET
Did you dream of playing another sport as a child?
Bill Russell at 1:35 p.m. ET
We used to play baseball and football and basketball, and so we all played those. But we never had any real ambition. I wasn't really good, you see. But when I got older, we started playing basketball all year round. When I was a kid -- fifth to eighth grade -- you played whatever the season was. And that included marbles.
aaron n at 1:35 p.m. ET
Bill, first of all, thank you for taking the time out to answer our questions. I would like to know what the game gave to you, in return for what you did for the game?
Bill Russell at 1:37 p.m. ET
Enormous pleasure, enormous sense of accomplishment and a cadre of good friends. And I don't know which one of those are the most important. It's a long-running love affair with basketball.
People often ask me, "Don't you wish you were playing now with the salaries as they were?" I wouldn't exchange one moment of how I played, where I played or who I played with. There's not enough money on the planet.
People ask what I think about the guys making all this money. I applaud that. Because I look at what I did, the game I love and that I played so well ... that people are willing to put their financial resources into this endeavor.
Laura at 1:37 p.m. ET
Hi Bill. I was wondering what your most special memory is during your time spent with the Celtics?
Bill Russell at 1:42 p.m. ET
I missed the first part of my rookie year because I was at the Olympics. I missed the first 25 games out of 72. So I would say that the day that Red Auerbach introduced me to the Celtic team players was one of the most fantastic days of my life.
Red takes me to the locker room and introduces me to the players one by one. All the guys said, "Welcome teammate." And that was just to me, very poignant. I was coming in with a huge reputation and everyone knew I was making more money than any of the guys in the room. The guys welcomed me like, "Glad to have you as a teammate." And I felt that everyone was sincere.
For example, the guy who was the starting center at the time, said, "Pleased to meet you and I'm going to be in your ear at every opportunity, to tell you what's going on." And this was the guy who it took me about two weeks to take his job. Can you imagine that happening? Here's a guy who's a starting center on a basketball team and here comes another guy who soon is going to be the starting center on this team. And his attitude was that he was going to do everything he can to help me. That's the Celtic way.
Things like that are just so significant. It wasn't like, "Well you may come in, but you're not going to get this job without a fight." It was like, "Come in, we're teammates now. " That's the way the Celtics were.
Of all the nine guys in that room, I think one of them died -- that's what I heard -- but all that are left, I still talk to them. Some more than others, but we still talk. And that was like, 1956.
Bill Russell at 1:43p.m. ET
It's nice to talk to or to communicate with Celtic fans and people who are interested in our team. Because our team is so close and the years out there, we had a hard-core group of fans who were extraordinary. And the support they gave us and the feelings that they conveyed to us -- that becomes very important. We had a hard-core group of fans who were part of the unit. And besides that, I'm kind of proud of what we did (laughs).