NBA legend Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, being the most prolific winner in major U.S. team sports, believes comparing great teams from different eras is “just not practical”.
Speaking with NBA.com recently, Russell said the today’s game is different from the game that he played back in the day, “or even when George Mikan played”.
“For example, you were not allowed to play zone defense and today, everyone plays a zone. On the Celtics, we had seven players who averaged double figures. Today’s good teams have only three. In my 13 years, the Celtics never had a player who led the league in scoring. As a result, when someone retired, it allowed another player to step into that slot, which enabled for a high level of consistency,” Russell explained.
He went on to recall that when he played basketball, he “never, ever tried to send a message.”
“Before the playoffs, when a reporter asked if he thought we had a chance to win the championship, my reply was, ‘We’ve done it before’,” Russell noted.
He said that one of the things that his Boston Celtics knew how to do is “to play their opponents”. As an example, Russell recalled how Celtics outplayed the LA Lakers.
“The last time being in 1969 when we went to a seventh game against them in L.A. That season, we had finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, securing the last playoff spot. We get to the seventh game of The Finals and I said to the guys, ‘The Lakers don’t have a chance tonight.’ And they looked at me like I had lost it,” Russell recalled.
“We played the Lakers six games and by this time we knew what worked. We knew they were an excellent team but they were so slow a foot. In the half-court offense, they will beat you to death plus we were an undersized team. The reason we are going to beat them is because we are going to fast break them. And you always hear that you cannot fast break in The Finals because other teams won’t let you,” he said.
Russell went on to say that what he learned from experience that the key to a fast break is defensive rebounding and outlet passing.
“I told my guys that I am the best to have ever done those things. So, I want both of our guards and our small forward to line up at each side of the court between the foul line and half court. So that when I rebound, I can quickly get the ball to the guy on the same side. So, that’s what we did and we ended up scoring 59 points by half time. Fast-break offense was not new to us. We were very versatile. We could play to our strengths against every team,” he recalled.
Russell played center from 1956 to 1969, also serving as player-coach for three seasons. He was a five-time MVP, 11-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star in his 13 seasons with the Celtics.
Russell was also a pioneer for African-American professional athletes, serving as a key voice and figure during the civil rights era. He played in 963 NBA games and holds career averages of 15.1 ppg and 22.5 rpg and 4.3 apg in 42.3 minutes of playing time.
He never averaged below 18.6 rebounds per game in his career, and did not average double figures in scoring in only his last season as a pro. He also led the NBA in rebounds per game five times in his career. Russell was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.Follow @exnbadotcom
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