The New Jersey Nets and the San Antonio Spurs are the two teams left competing for the Larry O'Brien Trophy and title of NBA champion -- something that Bill Russell knows a lot about.
Having won 11 NBA championships as a player and coach of the Boston Celtics, two NCAA championships, and an Olympic gold medal, Russell has been called
"the greatest winner to ever play the game," by longtime Celtics coach and President Red Auerbach.
Russell's book, RUSSELL RULES: 11 Lessons on
Leadership from the Twentieth Century's Greatest Winner (published last year) details the lessons that helped him to achieve NBA success and applies them to just about any walk of life. Russell reveals the eleven essential factors that influenced him in every aspect of his life that demonstrate how anyone can attain success both personally and professionally. Russell is not shy to admit that he has more rings than fingers, an accomplishment any NBA player would be envious of.
Russell was the cornerstone of the great Celtic teams of the 50's an 60's that won nine titles in a row, and 11 in 13 years. His remarkable shotblocking skills changed the way NBA teams played defense, and played offense against him. Standing only 6-9½ inches tall, Russell posted a career average of 22.5 rebounds per game, including a high of 51 in one game.
In addition to being a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player, and a 12-time All-Star, Russell was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.
Bill talked about this year's NBA Playoffs, the great Celtic teams of the 60's and life in general during this live chat. Here is the transcript.
kevin, st. louis: Hello Mr. Russell,
If you can recall, Tim Duncan could have went to the Celtics. Were you rooting for that and what do you think of his game?
Bill Russell: His game is extraordinary. His game would be valid in any era. He's a player for all seasons and all times. As for pulling for a draft, that's like gambling, and I don't. But he's a really great player.
javier, miami: Do you think the Nets will double on Duncan more or play him straight-up?
Bill Russell: They won't use the same defense that Dallas used. But they'll probably be something more like what the Lakers used. They'll try to figure what's best according to the Nets personnel. You have to factor all that into your planning.
Marcelo Buenos Aires: Could you tell us your opinion about "Spurs problems" to keep their advantage during the fourth quarters?
Bill Russell: What their problem is is a problem for all good teams. You get a lead, the other team calls time out and the pace is different. You stop playing aggressively. When the ball gets to a player, he's worried about making a mistake. The team that is behind is now dictating the pace. So the coach has to aggressively keep that under control. It's not easy, but it has to be done.
greg, newark: What do you think of Danny Ainge joining the Celtics front office? What changes may he make?
Bill Russell: It's very difficult to know. When a guy gets into the situation, he finds a few surprises. It's different coming in as an outside observer. As an announcer, you never really get an in-depth picture. When you're coaching a team or inside the organization, it's different. When I was a player coach, a player said, my friend's in town. Can he come to a practice? We started practice and I gave him a hard time. He said, 'Don't talk to me like that!' Even though I'd chastised him before. These are little things that outsiders don't see. In basketball, everything's personal. So outsiders can never really understand. It's usually completely different than you thought. It's a complicated business.
hillary, boston: Mr. Russell,
Other than your book(s) what are some of the good basketball books out there?
Bill Russell: I think anything you get into by John Wooden or Dean Smith or Bobby Knight -- these guys, if you were to take a poll of their players over the years, would find out they're the most beloved and well-respected coaches out there. Books by these guys, you're bound to get some excellent insights. You can find out what makes these fine people function.
tony, cleveland: Have you seen LeBron James play to compare his game to anyone you have seen before and what do yo think of all the money he is getting from Nike?
Bill Russell: I've seen him play on television and he's extraordinary. Now, how much he will progress, that's unknown. The same things that got him to where he is, may limit him to where he will go. I grew 2 1/2 more inches after I left high school. Some of the other guys had already peaked. He needs to get into a coaching situation where someone can really help him and balance both egos. Paul (Silas, newly hired Cavaliers coach) knows how to bring winning to a team. On the Celtics the vets would train the rookies and I think that's a good approach. And I think it's great that he's getting all that money. I look at the money he got from Nike as his inheritance. He's developed his body and mind to earn that money. I think it's great.
Denny, Dover, Del.: Will Mutombo be a factor in the Finals?
Bill Russell: You can't tell. He'll be a factor whether he plays or not. All that's personal, as I said before. The players, coaches, GM. It's all up to those guys in the organization. Up until this point, I think everyone's agreed Byron Scott is a great coach. Now, everyone's going to want to take over and tell him what to do. An effective coach knows his team and how things will affect guys. There's a little-known aspect of team play. Within the team, it's purely political. So whether or not Mutombo plays, will be internal politics and there's no way outside forces can impact that.
Jamal, Philadelphia: Have you ever seen such a great turnover in coaches in one off-season and what does this say about the state of the game or coaching?
Bill Russell: I think it's totally healthy. The flow of the game goes in a certain direction in ebbs and flows. Some times the coaches are in charge of the game. Sometimes coaches are in charge of the game. Jordan, Magic, Bird were all around when players are in charge of thegame. Sometimes coaches are in charge of the game, and honestly, that's when the league is most boring. When great players are able to improvise and express their talent, in the framework of a coach's plan, that's when the game is best. The good coaches set it up so that their players can succeed. Great coaches can coach good teams or bad teams. They say some coaches are disciplanarians or teachers. That's BS. You either can coach or you can't. Many coaches get the job for the wrong reason. With Red Auerbach, he said 'This is my team.' He never said 'I wish I has this guy.' He created a system built around the existing players' skills. He puts players in a position to do what they do best and succeed. Don't give him too many things to do that he doesn't do well. A good coach will create an atmosphere that helps players develop.
Lamont, Mobile, Al.: Who are some of your favorite rebounders of all-time and playing now?
Bill Russell: Of course Wilt and I -- that's the only thing we'd argue about. I thought he was the best and he thought I was. He thought I was better because I held the records in the playoffs. He felt that was bigger. That was he and I, we just dismissed the rest of 'em. I like a guy like Tim Duncan. If you have a guy who all he does is rebound, he just hangs around the basket. Duncan guards forwards, plays team defense -- switching to grab a guard at the top of the key -- and still gets boards. That takes more skill than just hanging out to total big rebounding numbers. A guy who can be an integral part of team defense and can still grab rebounds, that, to me, is impressive.
Jimm, Oakland, Cal.: Do you think Jason Kidd went unappreciated by the MVP voters this year and what do you like about his game?
Bill Russell: He might be unappreciated. MVP voters tend to go by numbers and your reputation. I think Tim Duncan is the legitimate MVP, no doubt. I was MVP twice and was All-Second Team those years. Players voted back then. The reason we won't go back to that is because of entertainment value, for media and fans. And I don't mean to be harsh, but they really don't understand what's going on out there. The year Wilt averaged 50+ points, I won MVP that year. Jason Kidd's alot like Magic. Other guys score and put up big numbers. But he's playing a complete game, physically, mentally and spiritually. If you get open for a good shot, 9 out of ten times he'll get you the ball in a good spot where you can do something about it. You have all these statistics, but they don't always add up to wins. Jason Kidd's stats and contributions add up to wins. I enjoy the game; I don't necessarily care how many assists a player gets. I have a cliche I made up: Professional athletes are not paid to play; professional athletes are paid to win.
Dianne, Toledo, Ohio: Did you enjoy your time as a broadcaster and team executive?
Bill Russell: It was OK. Over the years, I've heard people asked how was it to work with me. No one's ever asked me what it was like to work with those guys. It was a mixed bag. But I had an agenda when I was telecasting. I tried to talk about the game so that people watching could enjoy the game. I'd never criticize or dwell on the negative. I never felt like a team lost a game, I feel like another team won it. It's like my attitude with the Buffalo Bills. They lost those four Super Bowls. But I'd say the other team won those games. If you're one of the last two teams playing, you've had a great year. If you go out and play the best you can, the results take care of themselves. If you play the best you can, that's sufficient. I like to see good teams playing well. That's the best thing, period.
philly: who do you think going to win the championship
Bill Russell: I don't have the slightest idea. I think it'll come down to who gets their team to play the best, among Kidd and Duncan. It has nothing to do with numbers and foul trouble. It's a ripple effect. Who'll get their team to play great around them. I think both of them can have a huge impact, but the other guys will need to step it up, but it'll be a direct reaction to Kidd or Duncan. When Bird and the Celtics won the title, Maxwell was the MVP. And he deserved it. But it was because of Larry that he was able to do that. When you have a great player, the good teams embrace a good player and learn to play with him. By helping him, they help themselves.
Erwin, Bennekom, The Netherlands: Were you surprised by the Lakers getting knocked out of the playoffs so early?
Bill Russell: No. It is extraordinarily difficult to win year in and year out. Teams sometimes will try to put a team together that will beat "you". San Antonio put together a team that can beat the Lakers. And people believe if you can beat the Lakers, you can beat anyone. So they put a lineup together and they did that. That's what makes it difficult to win year in and year out. Teams have a design specifically for that purpose.
Wesley, detroit: Was there a lot of pressure on you as a black man when you took over the reigns of the Celtics as a coach in the 60s? How did you handle that situation?
Bill Russell: First of all, there was no pressure. The only pressure I could've felt was the pressure I put on myself. I knew, when I took the job, that I was the best person for the job. At that point, there was no hesitation about taking the job. I didn't try to replace a great coach. I just tried to coach the team. Everything else, is peripheral. Red's last year -- without an assistant -- he was thrown out of 22 games. So I had 22 games experience going into that year. And you know the old cliche, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it.' I tried to keep things as close as possible to the way Red did things, because they were working. It would've been dumb to change programs that were working. As best I could, I tried to stick to his way of doing things. For me, a good coach takes advantage of all his assets. Red would never come to practice unless I invited him. I always invited him! Guys were worried about Red looking over their shoulder. I was begging him to look over my shoulder. PLEASE look over my shoulder.
john, new york: If you were NBA commissioner what one change would you make?
Bill Russell: A better choice of neckties. (laughter) I think, actually, that Dave does such a great job. He has to balance what he thinks is best for the league period. Players, coaches, owners, fans, media. He's always getting pulled in a different direction. In a game there's not enough minutes for the players. That's what it's like for David Stern. In this country, everything is run by the dollar. David is a brilliant man, and he'll do what's best for everyone.