Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics had just broken Jerry West‘s heart yet again. Despite The Logo’s best efforts, the C’s defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals, which also marked the final game of Russell’s esteemed career.
The Celtics legend could easily have basked in the glory of his 11th championship. Instead, Russell chose to sing West’s praises.
Jerry West’s triple-double wasn’t enough to overcome Bill Russell and the Celtics in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals
The Celtics had been LA’s nemesis for years. The Lakers had already made it to the Finals six times in the 1960s before meeting the C’s once again in 1969. Boston defeated LA on all six of those trips.
Initially, it appeared the Lakers would finally be able to vanquish their Celtics demons. The Purple and Gold took a 2-0 series lead and won Game 5 after Boston had rallied to tie the series. However, the Celtics won Game 6, setting up a do-or-die Game 7 as the ultimate swan song for Bill Russell.
Jerry West did everything in his power to prevent a storybook ending.
West put together one of the best games in NBA history. He scored 42 points to go along with 13 rebounds and 12 assists. It is still the highest-scoring game for any player to record a triple-double in the NBA Finals. Yet, West’s heroics weren’t enough.
The Celtics managed to eke out a two-point victory despite getting outrebounded 74-54. Boston had three players with 20 or more, paced by John Havlicek‘s 26 points.
The win gave Russell his 11th championship and put a stamp on one of the greatest careers in NBA history. Yet, rather than reflect on his success, Russell chose to highlight West’s own greatness.
Russell gave West the highest compliment in the wake of another painful defeat
Bill Russell likely understood the gravity of what he achieved with the Celtics in the aftermath of Game 7. But he also understood the heroic effort West had just put forth.
Russell championed his fierce competitor after the contest. He said that, while LA failed to attain the Larry O’Brien trophy, the historians would forever remember West as one of the greatest players ever to take the floor.
West had been to the Finals seven times, and he had lost seven times. It looked even more unlikely that he would ever get his coveted championship after LA lost to the New York Knicks in seven games in the 1970 NBA Finals and failed to make it out of the Western Conference the following season.
However, West would finally climb the mountain in 1972. The Lakers steamrolled their way to a then-record 69 wins in the regular season, then romped through the playoff bracket before getting revenge on the Knicks in the NBA Finals.
West’s triumph completed his NBA legacy. Then again, he never needed to win a championship to be considered a champion, at least as far as Russell was concerned.
West said he would have like to play with Russell
Jerry West played with some legends over the course of his Lakers career, including Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, and Gail Goodrich. He would have liked to share the floor with Bill Russell, too.
Dan Patrick asked West back in 2019 if there was one player from his era he most would have liked to play with. West was adamant about Russell, both as a basketball player and a man.
“The greatest winner we’ve ever seen in our league, and he was just a guy that flew under the radar, but he had a regal-like effect on the game,” The Logo said of Russell, via Ryan Ward of Lakers Nation. “He was just incredible. More importantly, a friend. Someone I’ve greatly admired all these years.”
Russell and West never shared the floor as teammates, but they will forever be connected as the torch-bearers for the stars of the modern NBA as well as two men who had the utmost respect for one another.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.