Ada Fisher: Bill Russell was really basketball’s G.O.A.T.

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 4, 2022

As one listens to the pontification of sports analysts, especially “First Take,” talk about basketball in trying to capture the game’s Greatest of All Time — G.O.A.T. — one hears the names of Michael Jordan, LeBron James and maybe a Kareem Abdul Jabbar mentioned with Kobe Bryant on the periphery.  All of these “too soon” athletes who are from the era of the “individual show” game pale in comparison to William “Bill” Felton Russell who played the consummate team game leading the Boston Celtics to 11 consecutive NBA Championships in 13 years, including those where he was the Celtics’ player coach.

Russell was a 6-foot-10 center for the NBA’s Boston Celtics from 1956 to 1969. He became a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player, 12-time NBA All-Star and was pivotal in setting a record for repeat championships at eight from 1959 to 1966, i.e. an octo-peat trumping any bragging about a two-peat or three-peat.

His record highlights show he led his University of San Francisco Dons to two NCAA Championships in 1955 and 1956, captained the gold-medal winning 1956 Summer Olympic U.S. national basketball team and was the first Black coach in the NBA though John B. McClendon of the ABA’s Cleveland Pipers was the first Black coach of any professional sports.

Having watched Russell play professional ball his entire career along with his point man who he repeatedly said if he had to pick one player to take the last shot it would have been recently deceased 10 championship ring holder and teammate Sam Jones, from North Carolina, they put on a show of majesty and beauty.

Bill Russell and players of that day didn’t have the conditioning equipment, cushioned shoes or facility perks of today’s athletes but in their often used Chuck Taylor laced up high tops it was skill with the 15-footer, free throw line clutch shooting, dunk, pick and roll with a touch of spice, etc.  Russell’s dominating defense and rebounding would often stifle much taller competition, as in a Wilt Chamberlain, leading the NBA in rebounds four times with a dozen seasons of 1,000 or more.

Bill Russell was the first Black player to achieve superstar status in the NBA without the millions of dollars being thrown his way.  He didn’t take a knee but consistently put his beliefs on the line for which he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom acknowledging his accomplishments on the court and for civil rights.  Russell was inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 as a player and again in 2021 for his coaching career

All of the bogus and biased listings of the greatest NBA players in history do an injustice to their rankings if Russell doesn’t top the list for he did whatever it took for his team to win whether shooting, rebounding or just grunt work —  his greatness came when his team won.

Bill Russell’s game was a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  For that reason, the 2009 renaming of the NBA Finals’ MVP trophy to the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award truly honors its G.O.A.T.

Ada M. Fisher is a physician who was a medical director in a Fortune 500 company, previous member of a the board of education, licensed secondary education teacher, author, poet,  public speaker and was the N.C. Republican National Committeewoman (2012-2020). Her book “Common Sense Conservative Prescriptions —Solutions Good for What Ails Us” is available.