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If Phil Jackson could have any player to start a team it would be… Bill Russell

May 23, 2013, 5:16 PM EST

Bill Russell Red AP

It’s all about the rings.

For Phil Jackson — out promoting his book “Eleven Rings” — it’s always been about the hardware. It’s about building a real team around the stars he was given, about managing the egos, about having a team that didn’t seem fazed by the biggest stages.

So when Time Magazine asked him who he would want, of all the players in NBA history, to build a team around, he of course went with… Bill Russell. Not the guy with the statue in front of the United Center, not the guy who will have one in front of Staples Center someday. No, it’s the guy who had trouble getting a statue in Boston.

“In my estimation, the guy that has to be there would be Bill Russell. He has won 11 championships as a player,” Jackson said. “That’s really the idea of what excellence is, when you win championships.”

Russell was the anchor around which the dominant Celtics teams of the 1960s was built around — he was a defensive force who could score more than people remember. Russell was an 11-time champion, a five-time MVP and a 12-time All-Star.

To me Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar get shortchanged in the “GOAT” conversation. Because they are tall (even for NBA players) we seem to discount what they did, we don’t relate to them like we do Michael Jordan. Basketball is supposed to be easy for the tall, but that’s different than being tall and very skilled and smart.

But if you want to argue with Phil Jackson, you go ahead. Stack your credentials up against his and make your case.

Hat tip to The Point Forward. Here is the full Time interview with Jackson, which is very good.

  1. stlfan - May 24, 2013 at 7:33 AM

    Bob Pettit would be my choice. The NBA’s first-ever MVP. The NBA’s first to score 20,000 point. Made the All Star in all 11 seasons he played. Made the NBA’s First Team in his first 10 years, and made the second team in his last. Rookie of the Year with the Milwaukee Hawks. He accomplished this when the scouts and most GMs at that time said the LSU grad would never make it in the NBA. Determination, leadership, and team commitment.

  2. mrpostman985 - May 24, 2013 at 9:22 AM

    People tend to always lean towards past generations bc i guess its more a respect issue or some dnt understand or jus not fans of the game today !! I think wilt could play in any era bc of his size alone. Wilt and russel both were great in there era mainly bc they were bigger than everyone else. The difference is wilt showed every one how.great he was by puting up numbers to prove it..i think in that era against that talent of big men , Russell shuld have put up more individual numbers…Russell is only like 6’9 so to say he wuld dominate the center position at dat size today without extreme athleticism is unlikely…11 rings is impressive but if u dnt hav individual stats to go with that only shows how great your team is….

    • GT - May 24, 2013 at 10:34 AM

      There are SO many things wrong with this post.

      • andyhr17 - May 24, 2013 at 11:37 AM

        Bad Grammar and bad content. Impressive!

    • topdawg4ever - May 24, 2013 at 3:56 PM

      Someone needs to go back to school. You know, basketball has been around longer than you’ve been alive peewee. Would do you good to check out what the previous guys did.

  3. Nofoolnodrool - May 24, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    For you younger posters to disrespect Bill Russell is a joke. I met the man at a basketball camp fifty years ago and found him to be brilliant, funny, and has the must infectious laugh on earth. To assume that a talent like him would not be great today with the advantages he helped provide as a trail blazer just shows the narrow point of view held by today’s all knowing young fans. All the stars are emulated by each succeeding generation their moves are copied as everybody wants to be like MJ or Kobe, so the family tree grows to not know this shows your lack of intellectual depth.

  4. iowahbr - May 24, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    no one has mentioned how the 3 point rule has changed the role for many big men. I think Russell is a solid choice but those corner 3s from a driving guard or forward pass are changing the ability of a good defensive center to dominate as Russell did in his era. alos players like Derk who are 7 plus and can hit a 3 are giving the game a new look.

  5. tcclark - May 24, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    You cant miss with MJ Wilt or Oscar Robertson

  6. loungefly74 - May 24, 2013 at 12:27 PM

    questions like this do not have 1 correct answer. Bill Russell is a great pick for several reasons. that said, i’m betting the fact that he picked the guy with tons of rings correlates to the content of his book (gratuitous promotion)…guy’s gotta make a living!

  7. pistolpete0903 - May 24, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    I usually wouldn’t give credit to people who just talk highly about the athletes of the past (partly because they are nostalgic/ out of respect/ our generation was great).
    Having said that, I would give stock to the opinion of a basketball person (although he has to be objective) who has seen the play of players, past and present. Which is why I would concur with the Zen master.
    Also, people who watched the bigs (Russel, Wilt, Kareem) play ON a REGULAR BASIS, and who have watched the athletes of today, are the one’s I would look to an opinion for.
    I don’t want the younger generation to crow about Wilt’s 100 pt game (or Bill’s 11 rings) based on a few videos from Youtube

    • topdawg4ever - May 24, 2013 at 3:54 PM

      Yes most basketball fans respect Phil’s opinion (even when shilling books) and he not only saw the greatest play but played with a lot of them. I agree with him that Bill Russell is probably the best ever if you want to build a team around someone. He was an all-around player.

      The younger posters here should look at footage from some of the older players- it was a different game back then- actually harder- but a lot of those guys were more amazing than what you see today.

  8. classwaramericanstyle - May 29, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    It’s interesting to hear people dis the old time players. Here’s some differences to consider:
    There may not be a single player in the league today that does not carry the ball everytime they dribble. In the old days, it was a competition where the rules were enforced. Today it is entertainment where violations are overlooked so highlights can be created for Sports Center.
    Two steps on a drive was traveling.
    The jump stop was up-and-down, basically traveling also.
    No such thing as a “hard foul”. Watching last night’s game, David West slapped someone’s head as they went in to score. The announcers thought the league would review it? Every basketball fan has probably seen the Kevin McHale take down of Kurt Rambis. It was a personal foul. No ejection. No league review. If Jordan played in the 60’s, he’d have bit his tongue off by the end of his rookie season.
    Players are always walking when they catch the ball. Amazing to see it called on Wade last night.
    There were 8 teams – you never got to play the Charlotte Bobcats. Today’s NBA has players from all over the world, so look at it this way. How much better would the competition be if today’s league was 16 teams instead of 30?

    People talk like Russell wasn’t athletic. Actually, very few NBA’ers today are as athletic as he was. Russell competed on the USF track team after basketball season. He was ranked 7th in the world as a high jumper. The man was an Olympic caliber athlete in a sport other than basketball.

    I’ve heard Bill Russell referred to as the best team player in history. This evidently is a term used by people who refuse to call him the best basketball player of all time. Last time I looked, basketball was a team game. The only thing that matters is which TEAM wins. How many points an individual player has is meaningless. Same with rebounds or any other stat. After winning 2 of a possible 3 NCAA titles, he won 11 of 13 NBA titles. No one on his first NBA championship team was on his last. And for the Wilt fans, I’ll say this. Just switch Bill and Wilt on their teams and Bill still wins.

    I’m not a Jackson fan, but he got it right this time.

    • audioresearch - May 29, 2013 at 5:03 PM

      I attended the very first game Bill Russell played for the Celtics and watched him on tv and sometimes in person at the Boston Garden and I’ve watched the NBA ever since.

      Nobody but nobody has ever had or will ever have the impact that Russell had. His mere presence alone was magic. If he was there, a Celtics win was just about automatic no matter how much the media claimed the Celtics were too old or slow to win.

      Time after time, Russell would come out of nowhere from the back court to catch opponents who were in the frontcourt already after a steal and a breakaway and somehow, Russell would catch them and block their layups.

      The Celtics philosophy was for individual players NOT to put up huge numbers, but instead for teamwork to win the games. Also, defense was always emphasized greatly over offense.

      Russell had huge numbers of rebounds. In fact, I started to think his name was “rebound russell” because the announcer, Johnny Most, must have said that phrase about 22 times a game. Typically, Russell would in fact have 22 rebounds and often ever more. Also, he didn’t get injured much unlike the soft players of today.

      And as for his teams being mostly responsible for the winning, I can tell you that the one time Russell was injured, in 1958, was the ONLY time the Celtics did not win a championship from 1957 to 1966.

      Bill Russell = world championship. Simple as that. The greatest and most dominant sports figure ever.

      I think he is about 75 now. To tell the truth, even now, I’d rather see him playing than any player now on the Celtics. Bill, please come back!!!!! God, do we miss you.

  9. audioresearch - May 29, 2013 at 5:07 PM

    Oh, let me add one more thing.

    Usually, when Bill blocked a shot, something he did a LOT, he slapped the ball up and then caught it on the way down.

    So, instead of slapping it out of bounds so that the other team got it back, he took the ball away from the other team so that the Celtics got possession.

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