Comparing athletes from different eras is always a challenge. That’s what makes the NBA’s GOAT debate so difficult. Could LeBron James have starred in the 1980s when basketball was a much more physical game? Could former Boston Celtics star Bill Russell succeed in the game today?
Former NBA player JJ Redick hinted that Russell may not have starred in today’s game because he played against plumbers and firemen in his era. The topic of Russell playing today came up recently once again, and two former Los Angeles Lakers stars blasted anyone who believes the 11-time champion couldn’t hang with today’s players.
Bill Russell dominated his way to 11 NBA championships
Depending on who you ask, Russell could be the most dominant NBA player ever. The former Celtics center guided his team to eight straight championships and 10 out of 11 from 1958 to 1969.
The 6-foot-10 Russell did most of his work from the defensive side of the ball. He helped revolutionize the game with blocked shots and a defensive presence in the middle unmatched by any other. Russell made opponents play his game.
The paint was his. He dictated how his opponents would play their game. During his playing career, Russell even said basketball was just as much a mental game as it was physical.
“Basketball is a game that involves a great deal of psychology,” Russell said during the early part of the 1963 season, according to Sports Illustrated. “The psychology in defense is not blocking a shot or stealing a pass or getting the ball away. The psychology is to make the offensive team deviate from their normal habits.
“This is a game of habits, and the player with the most consistent habits is the best. What I try to do on defense is to make the offensive man do not what he wants but what I want.”
Russell was a five-time MVP and a 12-time NBA All-Star. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Norm Nixon adamantly say Russell could play in any era
During the debut episode of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s podcast Skyhook: The Podcast, the former Lakers center and his teammate, Norm Nixon, reminisced about their days together with the Lakers. They discussed all things basketball. The topic turned to Russell and whether or not he could play in today’s game that relies much more on speed and outside shooting.
“My daughter just got married,” Nixon said to Abdul-Jabbar, “and her brother-in-law would sit down and talk to me like, ‘Man, Bill Russell couldn’t play now.’ I said, ‘Man, get out of my house. Will somebody please get him out of my house?’
“Bring him over to my crib,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I’ll talk to him.”
“I called a couple of people and said listen to this guy,” Nixon said. “Who did I catch on the phone? I called Coop (former teammate Michael Cooper), and I’m like, listen to this guy.”
Abdul-Jabbar said players would be crying on the court today if they faced Russell.
“They’d be crying on the court, ‘I can’t shoot. Why won’t he let me shoot?'” he said. “They’d be really surprised about that man.
“Some people just refuse to see the truth.”
When two Lakers back a Boston Celtics player, you know they’re speaking the truth.