Take a quick tour of the NBA history website and you will find more than a few mentions of Bill Russell.
Russell, one of the greatest players in NBA history, was the mainstay of the Boston Celtics dynasties of the late 1950s and 60s, helping the Celtics to 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons. Known as the best defensive center ever to step onto the hardwood, Russell was a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player, a 12-time All-Star and in 1996 was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He was called "the greatest winner to ever play the game," by none other than longtime Celtics coach and current Vice-Chairman of the Board Red Auerbach.
Standing only 6-9½ inches tall, Russell posted some impressive stats in addition to the championships. He ranks number two all-time in total rebounds, had a career average of 22.5 rebounds per game, and holds most of the NBA records for rebounds in a Finals game.
Russell checks in with NBA.com from time to time and with the new season right around the corner, he stopped by and dropped some basketball knowledge. See what he had to say when he chatted on NBA.com Thursday, Oct. 24.
Wally (San Fran): Hey Russ, (I ball on your court up at USF all the time)
Talk to me about how Vin Baker is gonna fit into the Celts Offense this season? Has Jim OBrien asked you to work with Baker, Battie, Sundov and Wolkowiski on their post moves and post defense? Thanks.
Bill Russell: Well, it's hard to tell because it depends on where they play him. What he is is a small forward in a power forward's body. And so most of the time he's played, he's played out of position. So it depends on how he feels about that and if the "Celtics magic" rubs off on him. Coach OBrien has asked me to help, but I won't say which ones. (laughs) The time I was supposed to go there to work with the guys, my father died, so I was out of the loop for a couple of weeks.
Michael Walsh (Everett, MA): Bill, as one of the greatest athletes ever, what other athletes do you have the most respect or admiration for? Who do you most admire in today's sports world?
Bill Russell: I would probably say Barry Bonds is one of them because he's been doing it a long time at the high level. And as I watch the World Series, I noticed they walked him on purpose three times. That shows the ultimate respect. Of course, Tiger. I'm just one of those guys who like to see games played at the highest level. In fact, I've gone to a couple of the WNBA games, and a couple of those women are very admirable. I like major league sports in general. But I'm also one of those old guys that go to high school basketball games. I like watching players play well. The only things I look for are the good things in players. So there are no really bad players but there are great players.
Fabio (Italy): Mr.Russell, I am a long time Celtics fan, and I am proud of it. One thing that kept amazing me is that every Celtic player of that team says the most important ingredient was chemistry. How did you manage to obtain it? It wasn't just luck.... Thank you for the memories.
Bill Russell: Thank you but it was more than chemistry. Chemistry was a part of the mix, but we had great basketball players. I'll tell you a quick story. When I was playing for the Celtics, there was a guy named John Thomas who held the record in high jump. And he came down to practice and said, "hey, I'll play for the Celtics." And I said, "You can't play for the Celtics. You're not a basketball player." He said he could jump and dunk and all that. I said, "There's more to it than that. I'll show you the difference. I'm a center but I'm going to go out to the key and shoot jumpshots and shoot lefthanded. He didn't know I was lefthanded. (laughs)." So I went to the top of the key and kicked him out of there. The realy good teams make it look easy becaues they play togeter so well, but you have to be highly skilled to carry out your science. All these guys I played with were great basketball players and were fundamentally sound. So, the assignments they carried out that looked easy were because they had skills.
Scott (New York): Bill, besides Shaq there's doesn't seem to be any dominant centers left. With the retirement of Olajuwon, and once Robinson is gone. There won't be any. Why do you think that is?
Bill Russell: It's a generational thing. Each generation produces athletes and most generations are different sizes. There was an era when you had Baylor, Pettit, Bird, who were great, great forwards. And when I first got in the league, Bob Cousy was really the only really good PG. When I was playing, we just had too many good centers. There were never nights off. We had Chamberlin, Reed, Thurmond and you might run into those guys five nights in a row. Right now, because of Michael I think, most of your strength is at shooting guard. So, what the coaches have to do is build their systems around their talent. But Shaq would be outstanding in any era. And there's some guys who can play against him. Tim Duncan, for one. Duncan is close to being as good as Shaq, and he has a different set of skills. But he could play center if he wanted to. I think he's the most fundamentally sound of all players. And Kevin Garnett, if he decided to play down on the blocks, would be unstoppable.
Mia: Hi Mr. Russell,
I wanted to thank you for writing your book "Second Wind"! I just loved it! I recently got a copy of "Go up for Glory" off ebay too! You are a beautiful person and I think it's cool that you are doing this chat! My love affair with Basketball led me to you and I have gained so much by your genuine spirit and insights! What are some of your favorite books?
Bill Russell: I don't know. I read a variety of books. A lot of books I read are kind of obscure. I don't have a central theme of kinds of books I like to read. I try to gain information and insights from other people. I like Carl Sagan's books. I was on the airplane once with him, and he had just read Second Wind. And he introduced himself to me, and said his ladyfriend had just read him my book over the weekend. And he gave me a signed copy of his book. And I read a book a long time ago called The Invisible Man, which was quite insightful. I've even read about six different versions of the Bible. You have a tough time talking after you get through reading through two or three of them. (laughs)
Rahim (newark, n.j.): Bill great career and display of dominance. Who do you feel is the most effective defender overall in the nba? Who is the best Celt of all time?
Bill Russell: The best Celtic player ... there's no doubt about that. No. 6. (laughs) As for defender, probably Gary Payton. There are guys that get a reputation for playing defense, and fundmentally, they aren't always very good. A good defensive player can handle a guy one-on-one, but many guys today go right for the double-team.
Adam, Sacramento: Mr. Russel, do you think the kings really have what it takes to beat the lakers this year (assuming everyone is healthy) or will they just fade into history as one of those teams that got so close but never could go all the way?
Bill Russell: You can't tell yet. They seem to have pretty good matchups. Are they going to have the same energy when they get there the next time? The key for them is to become a unit, playing together. That's the only way they're going to be able to beat them. And you don't know until the game's on the floor.
Joel (Chicago): Hello Mr. Russell,
I grew up in the Boston area watching you and the rest of the Celtics and have always been a diehard Celtic fan.
What affect do you think the change in ownership will have on the current Celtic Roster and Management, and in the near future?
Bill Russell: I really don't know. I don't know very much about them. All I know is the same things that you know...what's been written in the paper. I don't know what their attitude is or why they bought the money. But they paid a lot of money. (laughs) It's hard to tell what they want to do without knowing them. But from what I hear, they seem to be gentlemen and sportsmen, and that's always good for a franchise.
Walter Davis,: What was special about that one-on-one matchup featuring you and Wilt?
Bill Russell: He always scored twice as many points as I did, and he always got more rebounds than I did. But mostly, we won the game. You know that his year, when he averaged 50 points a game, he also averaged I think 26 rebounds per game, which is quite an achievement. In those days, the players voted for the MVP. In that year, he averaged 50, and I won the MVP, as voted by the players.
Jerron (Glendale): Mr. Russell, I'm trying out for my high school basketball team in a couple of weeks. I am wondering if you have any knowledge that you would be willing to share with me about how to impress or gain respect of the coaches and how to be the best basketball player I can be. Thanks.
Bill Russell: The first thing is to make yourself valuable to the coach in the gym. Learn the fundamentals of playing basketball: shoot the ball, pass the ball, catch the bal, dribble the ball, rebound the ball, run plays, play defense left and right handed, be able to play the guard you're guarding but also be able to open up and play team defense. What you have to do is perfect yourself as much as possible in all those areas. And if you're a high school kid, now's the time you learn to do all those things.
Patrick Young (Stockholm Sweden): It seems today that everyone has to have his own shoe design with different "bells and whistles". Is it true you were a low-top wearer? How did your ankles survive down-low?
Bill Russell: We used to tape our ankles, even when they weren't hurt, to give them strength and keep them from rolling over. So, it didn't matter about the shoes. In those days, the shoes were canvas and didn't give you much support anyway. The difference was how well your trainer taped your ankles.
Michael Patykula: What do you see as the biggest difference of play then as it is now?
Bill Russell: I think with the rule changes and everything, the coaches out of necessity, have to push their team to no-good defensive plays. You have defensive schemes to protect everybody. When I played you had schemes to protect just a couple guys. And because of the defensive scheme, it's cut down the scoring, but it doesn't mean it's better defensive schemes.
Bill Russell: I'm looking forward to this season because I'm one of tohse guys that applaud and welcome the foreign players. I started in 1959 doing clinics overseason, and we've had a host of colleges and coaches going over there playing. And we like to think that had an impact on players all over the planet. Now when you go to an NBA game, those are the best basketball players on the planet.