Chris Bosh Loves Bill Russell but Discredited His Era: ‘He Played Against Firefighters’
Two-time NBA Finals champion Chris Bosh is one of several new members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Among the greats he’ll be joining in Springfield, Massachusetts, is Bill Russell, who is entering as a coach the same weekend as Bosh.
Last year, Bosh went on JJ Redick’s The Old Man and the Three podcast to discuss his career, playing with LeBron James and the Miami Heat, as well as life after basketball. When the topic of LeBron’s championship record compared to the greats came up, Bosh had some things to say, particularly at the expense of the 11-time champion Russell.
Chris Bosh believes Bill Russell should be mentioned amongst the GOATs
Bosh got on the topic of rings after Redick asked the 11-time All-Star where he stood on the Michael Jordan versus LeBron James debate.
“I don’t even compare it, to be honest,” Bosh said. “It’s impossible to put them together and I think it’s disrespectful to Magic, Kareem, Kobe, and Bill Russell. So it’s like, ‘Who’s the greatest ever, one or boom?'”
As he listed the GOAT cases for each player, Bosh put Russell in his own category.
“I just pull Bill in his own stratosphere,” Bosh said to Redick. “This dude won a championship as a coach and then he’s leading the sports civil rights movement. Put him over here … greatest [philanthropist], I don’t know, but put him in his own stratosphere.”
Russell is worthy of being on his own separate level. The 87-year-old became the first Black head coach in North American professional sports, as well as the first to win a championship. He also earned a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for his work in the civil rights movement.
Bosh pointed out the types of players in the NBA during Russell’s time
Both Redick and Bosh agreed that Russell, he of 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons, is the greatest winner in basketball history. However, Redick brought up the difference between Russell’s NBA versus the sport today.
“I do just want to point out that for some of those championships, there were like eight teams in the entire NBA,” Redick said. “Some of those championships he only had to win two rounds in the playoffs.”
“And, you know, you’re playing against firefighters,” Bosh responded. “You know, dudes had jobs in the summertime. Dude’s going to be a lifeguard, go work on construction after the NBA season. They had part-time jobs, they went [during] summertime and got a job, bro.”
While the comment was mostly in jest, there is a bit of truth to what Bosh said. Many players in the 1950s and 1960s held second jobs, as their NBA salaries weren’t enough to sustain them. Only a select few — Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, for example — were big enough stars to where they made enough money from basketball alone.
Russell’s era was tougher than most believe
Even though there were players who had other jobs to make ends meet, there were still plenty of other talented players Russell had to go through on his 11 title quests.
Three of the all-time greats were on the Los Angeles Lakers alone; Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor. However, Russell was a perfect 7-0 against LA in the Finals. There was also “Mr. Triple Double” Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas, plus other legendary centers like Walt Bellamy, Nate Thurmond, and Willis Reed. These players, all Hall of Famers, were far removed from the days of shooting into a peach basket.
As far as Redick’s argument, the NBA crammed all of their players onto eight teams. So while the chances are higher of making the postseason and playing in the Finals, players like Russell are facing a tough, competitive team night after night.
Sure, some of the players during that time might have also been firefighters and construction workers. But that didn’t mean Bill had to work any less to become the greatest champion in NBA history.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.