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.
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