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Bill Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain made up one of the greatest rivalries the NBA has ever seen. The two legendary centers faced off 94 times throughout their careers and 49 more times in the playoffs, and it was always a war in the paint whenever they guarded each other.

But the two Hall of Famers were also good friends off the court, and Russell once admitted he would let Chamberlain pad his stats whenever games got out of reach.

What a good pal.

Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain had a friendly rivalry

Rivals aren’t supposed to be cordial with one another, but that was exactly the case between Russell and Chamberlain throughout the 1960s. At the time, Russell and Chamberlain were two of the most dominant forces in the league. They both averaged more than 20 rebounds a game over their careers, so you can bet the paint was a war zone every time the two faced off.

There was also a financial rivalry between the two centers off the court. When Chamberlain signed a three-year, $100,000 contract with the 76ers in 1965, Russell threatened to retire unless the Boston Celtics paid him $1 more than his rival.

A short while later, Russell signed a new contract with the Celtics worth $100,001, which made him the highest-paid player in the NBA at the time.

Take that, Wilt.

Although the two were rivals in almost every sense, they had a friendly relationship on and off the court. Russell stayed at Chamberlain’s house for Thanksgiving a handful of times, and they would even look out for each other’s stats during their battles down low.

Russell let Chamberlain score to get inside his head

Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain battle down low.
Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics guards Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia 76ers | Getty Images

In an interview with Jackie MacMullan of ESPN in 2015, Kobe Bryant shared a hilarious story about the Russell-Chamberlain rivalry. Apparently, Russell knew Chamberlain could dominate him in the paint whenever he wanted, so the Celtics legend would let him score and pad his stats once games were out of reach.

That, Russell told Bryant, would make Chamberlain ease off the gas pedal.

“Bill didn’t want to activate Wilt,” Kobe told MacMullan. “He felt if he defended Wilt too well, then Wilt would take that as a challenge. And if he did, Wilt was going to demolish Bill because he was so physically big and strong. So Bill felt if he could appease Wilt, let him score once in a while, then Wilt would remain satisfied and Bill could keep him at bay.”


Chamberlain statistically demolished Russell in their matchups

Russell must’ve let Chamberlain score much more often than he let on, because in 94 regular-season matchups between the two, Wilt dominated him on the stat sheet.

Chamberlain averaged 29.9 points and 28.1 rebounds per game when playing against Russell. By comparison, Russell averaged just 14.2 points and 22.9 rebounds per game against his rival.

But the only stat Russell cared about was championship rings, and he had 11 of those to Wilt’s two. Chamberlain could have all the points and rebounds he wanted. Russell was only interested in titles, and he won more than anyone in the history of the NBA.

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