Russell vs. Chamberlain

Growing up in the New York area in the sixties the only team you could watch on TV was the Knicks. They made it hard to like basketball. In 1965 ABC began showing the NBA Game of the Week. This introduced me to Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

It seemed every Sunday the Celtics were playing Philly on TV. This meant Russell and Wilt would be going at it. As a fan I gravitated toward the smaller Russell and became a Celtic fan.

Every Sunday I remember going to church and then coming home watching THE game. The idea that Boston would be playing Philly on TV usually hit me on Thursday when we got the TV Guide. From Thursday on, the excitement built inside me.

The games were battles which Boston usually winning. The things that stood out to me were that both greats played forty eight minutes and they usually had twenty or more rebounds. Wilt usually outscored Russell in those games but they were battles. When these games ended I would go outside and shoot lefty hook shots and lefty foul shots like Russell.

I have always thought about which great I would want on my team. Wilt’s numbers were far superior to Russell’s however it seemed, outside of 1967, Russell’s team won. I think back to 1968 when Boston came back to defeat Philly in the playoffs after being down three games to one. Boston became the first team to comeback in a series and win three straight. The thing I most remember was game seven. During that time games weren’t on TV but I was able to listen to the game on WOR radio. The announcer kept saying that Wilt had only taken one shot in the second half. Boston won 100 – 96.

People always said Wilt’s teams weren’t as good as the Celtics but I hold up that ’68 series and ’69 series. In ’69 Wilt had Jerry West and Elgin Baylor as teammates. An old Russell had John Havlicek and a retiring Sam Jones. The Lakers were supposed to win that series easily. Boston had come in fourth during the regular season and surprisingly won their first two series. It came down to a game seven at the Forum in LA. Boston held on to win the game aided by a fluke foul line jumper by Don Nelson that hit off the back rim and came straight down into the basket. Wilt sat out the last five or so minutes of the fourth quarter.

The Lakers were sure of the championship they had balloons in the rafters. They would release them when the Lakers won the championship. After the game Red Auerbach asked, “What are they going to do with the balloons”.

I know Wilt was the better player but because basketball was a team game I’ll take Russell.

thePeachBasket exists to amplify the voice of passionate basketball fans worldwide! We are the home of Fan Experts and Voice of the Fan! ™

2 Responses

  1. That doesn’t make any sense at all. If a player is better you pick him. Russell’s team played better so they won. They won because, overall, they had better players. Wilt usually lost because of his teammates, not in spite of them. The 1969 team was shallow; behind West and an aging Baylor you had guys like Erickson and Mel Counts–good but not great. The ’69 Lakers were overrated and played especially badly in that Game 7. Their coach threw away their chances when he kept Wilt on the bench in the last 5 minutes–out of spite (for which he was fired). in ’68, for some reason his teammates didn’t pass to him the whole second half. Some thanks for his leading them to the championship the preceding year. Russell was probably the only player who had great teams his entire career, loaded with Hall of Famers, and had very few years when there were any teams of comparable quality. Twice there were and the Cemts lost–once to that Sixer team, once to Bob Pettit’s Hawks both (coached by the great Alex Hannum). But to return to your point, when Russell was asked whom he’d pick for his team he didn’t name any Celtic teammates, great as they were–he simply picked the best individual players he knew: West, Robertson, Barry, Baylor (he picked more than 4, actually, and included Bird, Jordan, and Petit) because that’s what you do. Russell was very great who made his team even better with his leadership, no question, but he was also very, very lucky to be on the team he was on and to be coached by Auerbach. Remember that West, Robertson, and Barry each one just one title each–they were not 1/11th the player that Russell was.

  2. Mike, thanks for taking the time reading the article, it’s greatly appreciated however I politely disagree. My emphasis was on the 68 and 69 seasons. In the 68 series game seven against Philadelphia that Boston won as I said in the article Wilt took one shot in the second half. Wilt was the better player as I said in but you would have to admit he was one of the most unpredictable players of that time.Philly had the home court so they had a better record and Boston came back in that series winning the last three games, two in Philly.

    In 69 the Lakers won fifty five games while Boston won 48. Boston was a fourth place team with an aging past their prime Russell and Sam Jones. In fact Boston had Em Bryant a retread at point guard that player over forty minutes in that game. Boston did have John Havlicek who was in his prime and great. The Lakers had a prime and series MVP in Jerry West, an aging Elgin Baylor and Wilt. Wilt still had a few good years left. If you remember Wilt took himself out of the game because he was injured. You are correct about Van Breda Koff not putting him back in. Russell said after the game that and I paraphrase nothing short of a broken leg would have gotten me out of that game. Again I’m not disputing Wilt being the more talented player but I am saying Rusell was the better winner. He won when he had a more talented team and won with a less talented team.

    Thanks again for the comment.

Leave a Reply

More on thepeachbasket