Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell is one of the players in the same tier as Jordan, thanks in large part to his record 11 championships. But one day on the golf course, Russell also went head-to-head with MJ in talking smack.
Michael Jordan and Bill Russell share several legendary similarities
The two NBA greats played in different eras, as Jordan was six years old when Russell retired. However, their careers mirror each other in a number of ways.
Both Russell and MJ had 13 trips to the postseason in their 13- and 15-year careers, respectively. Jordan holds a slight edge in All-Star appearances, 14 to 12, while each was selected to 11 All-NBA teams. The two Hall of Famers also have five MVP Awards to display on their respective trophy shelves.
Of course, each of them has his own dominant category. For Jordan, that’s 10 scoring titles to Russell’s zero and 10 All-NBA First Team honors to Russell’s three. However, Bill had his areas of strength too. His four rebounding titles eclipsed Jordan’s zero, while his 11 rings were more than Jordan’s six.
Russell had a quick comeback for Jordan’s trash-talking
While Jordan was still in the league, he took a break from basketball one afternoon to play a round of golf with Russell. In an old interview, the Celtics legend praised His Airness before recalling the smack talk that occurred on the golf course:
“I think he is a great player and I have the ultimate regard for him. We were out in the middle of the golf course; they had just won the championship. He says, ‘You know we’re going to go after your record.’ I said, ‘Which one?'”Bill Russell
Russell continued, saying, “You know, we won 11, but we won eight straight. I don’t think you’ll live long enough to get either one of those.”
Jordan countered, but Russell had an answer again
Russell’s 11 rings are unmatched to this day, but there is a logical argument to knock it. The big man entered the league when there were just eight teams in the NBA. By the time he retired, the league had expanded to 12.
Jordan brought up that same point, but Russell offered an explanation.
“Think about it this way,” Russell responded. “When I was a rookie, there were 80 jobs in professional basketball, so a lot of good players didn’t make it. If there were 12 teams, you [Jordan] wouldn’t win a championship. You did a great job penetrating and you dished out to [John] Paxson and he hit the open shot, won the game. If there were 12 teams in the league, he couldn’t make that shot. He said, ‘Why not?’ Because he would be up in the stands. And that is not a knock on him, but it’s about the quality of the NBA.”
Jordan and Russell’s careers are forever linked by their ultimate success on the court. They’re also linked by a fun back-and-forth conversation on the golf course.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.