Bill Russell doesn’t need to remind folks how great he was. He has 11 rings to prove it.
If the number of championships is the deciding factor in recognizing the greatest NBA player of all time, then the former Boston Celtics great wins it hands down.
When Russell was snubbed by LeBron James in his mythical Mt. Rushmore of all-time great players, Russell didn’t throw a fit. He just reminded LeBron, and the rest of the basketball world, his team titles.
During Sunday’s All-Star game, TNT’s Craig Sager relayed Russell’s message.
“Hey, thank you for leaving me off your Mount Rushmore. I’m glad you did,” Russell said. “Basketball is a team game, it’s not for individual honors. I won back-to-back state championships in high school, back-to-back NCAA championships in college, I won an NBA championship my first year in the league, an NBA championship in my last year, and nine in between. That, Mr. James, is etched in stone.”
In fairness to LeBron, his Mt. Rushmore included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson. Those four are hard to knock. But not having a center in that group is a huge slap in the face to Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. Those great big men arguably made the NBA what it is today, and was very instrumental in paving the way for Jordan, Magic and Bird.
Even though the NBA has evolved into more of a perimeter-oriented game — leaving the center position off the All-Star ballot — it doesn’t mean we should completely ignore them. Basketball is still a big man’s game.
Over the course of NBA history, championships are won by dominant big men. And nearly all the great championship teams had a great center: George Mikan (5 titles), Russell (11), Chamberlain (2), Abdul-Jabbar (6), Hakeem Olajuwon (2), David Robinson (2), Tim Duncan (4) and Shaquille O’Neal (4).
There are a few exceptions, of course, such as Jordan’s Bulls, LeBron’s Heat and Isiah Thomas’ Pistons. But Jordan couldn’t have won without the dirty work of power forwards Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman. LeBron would be ringless without the help of Chris Bosh. And Isiah needs to thank Bill Laimbeer, James Edwards and Rick Mahorn for having his back.
History suggests that the path to a title goes through the center.