While Bill Russell hasn’t hit the basketball court in quite a while, the Boston Celtics big man is still an NBA legend. Whether he was blocking shots, winning championships, or standing up against racial injustice, it’s impossible to argue with the center’s resume. There’s something else that Russell wants you to know about him, though.
On Monday night, Kendrick Perkins took to Twitter and called LeBron James the “most athletic player in NBA history.” Bill Russell, however, ended up swooping in a day later to rightfully claim the crown.
Bill Russell’s legendary basketball career
When you’re talking about a legendary athlete like Bill Russell, it’s tough to reduce their resume to a single word. For the Celtics great, however, “winner” works pretty well.
Russell first hit the hardwood at the University of San Francisco, where he blossomed into a legitimate star. While the Dons aren’t a basketball powerhouse these days, things were a bit different in the 1950s. Russell averaged 20.7 points per game during his three seasons with the varsity squad, winning back-to-back national championships in 1955 and 1956.
When the 1956 NBA draft rolled around, Red Auerbach identified Russell as the missing piece his Celtics needed; thanks to some shrewd maneuvering and a draft-day trade, he brought the big man to Boston. That move, it turned out, changed the course of basketball history.
Russell went on to spend 13 seasons in Boston, winning 11 NBA titles. While he excelled on the defensive end of the floor, the big man wasn’t one dimensional by any stretch of the imagination; he averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game for his career, and earned five NBA MVP awards. Today, he’s rightfully considered to be one of the greatest players ever to hit the NBA hardwood.
Kendrick Perkins crowns LeBron James as the NBA’s greatest athlete
No matter how great someone like Bill Russell was, there’s always a bias toward modernity and remembering what we’ve seen with our own eyes. That reality was on display Tuesday night.
Kendrick Perkins, who has never been shy about sharing his opinions, retweeted a video of LeBron James soaring through the air and contorting his body to catch a pass. “Most athletic player in NBA history,” the former Celtic proclaimed.
On the surface, there’s nothing egregiously wrong with Perkins’ claim. While there are plenty of other candidates for the title—commentators highlighted Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, and pre-injury Derek Rose—King James does move pretty well for his size and age.
Bill Russell, however, decided to make a case for himself.
Bill Russell wants you to know he’s the NBA’s most athletic man
As mentioned above, just about everyone knows Bill Russell’s on-court achievements. The Celtics star, however, was also a freakish athlete away from the court.
“In , I could have made the Olympics in high jump but turned it down to play basketball instead,” Russell tweeted at Perkins. “We could only play one sport then. Track and Field News ranked me #7 high jumper in the world, I was ranked #2 in the US @ the time.”
Russell also included an image as proof, and history backs up his claim. “Bill Russell ranked as the world’s No. 7 high jumper in Track and Field News rankings in 1956,” an old CBS SportsLine post about two-sport NCAA stars explained. “Russell won titles in the West Coast Relays, Pacific AAU meet, and Central California AAU meet in 1956. His winning mark of 6-9 1/4 in the West Coast Relays was the 11th-best mark recorded in the world in 1956.”
The Celtic’s legend wasn’t done there, though. “In addition to my leaping ability, I was also an somewhat known as an outstanding sprinter,” he explained in a follow-up tweet. He also included a video of him going coast-to-coast and leaping over a defender for good measure.
His arguments, it seems, were pretty effective. “Well I’ve been checked by an All-Time Great so sorry @KingJames I’ve had a change of heart,” Perkins tweeted. “@RealBillRussell is the Most Athletic Player in NBA History!!! My apologies @RealBillRussell.”