At 83 years old, Bill Russell is still playing basketball. And, even at age 83, he’s still one of the best players in the game. During the 1970s, at the time of his career peak, Russell was still nearly as good as he ever was, if not better; his triple-double numbers were still impressive, and he was still putting up incredible numbers in the playoffs. Russell’s peak seasons were in 1962-63 (27.5 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 10.4 assists) and 1970 (21.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 9.2 assists).
San Francisco Giants centerfielder (and great musician) Bill “Spaceman” Russell passed away on Wednesday, after a long illness. For those of us who don’t understand baseball, Russell was an early-50s left fielder with the Boston Red Sox. He averaged over 20 home runs per year in his career, and he won 11 batting titles. And yet, he’s mostly remembered today as the only player to ever say something like this, at an owners’ meeting during an early-1960s game: “You can talk about baseball all you want, but the only people who are going to keep the game alive are the players. The owners need to realize they can’t run the game without the players, and the players need to
In a recent interview Bill Russell was asked to name some of the greatest basketball players of all time. He had some great, no doubt, but he also had a few who he said had a very different impact on the game. He said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a better passer than Magic Johnson, and he referred to Bill Russell as a better center than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
There is a strong argument to be made that no sport has a better ambassador than Bill Russell.
The 11-time NBA champion is regarded as one of the game’s all-time greats. But he’s also a regular at NBA Finals festivities, when he gives out the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.
Russell is regarded as NBA royalty, but he also has a wicked sense of humour. Russell used his humor to mock five of the best centers in NBA history while accepting the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2017 NBA Awards Show.
Two of the five centers honoring Bill Russell were Shaquille O’Neal and Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem.
Basketball City at Pier 36 in New York City hosted the NBA’s inaugural annual awards ceremony in 2017. Russell Westbrook was named NBA Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo was named Most Improved Player, and Malcolm Brogdon was named Rookie of the Year during the event, which was broadcast on TNT. The NBA, however, took a break from honoring current players and instead focused on a player from the past in the middle of the ceremony.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Dikembe Mutombo, five of the game’s all-time greatest centers, joined the stage to award Russell with the league’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Bill’s skills improved our sport by combining the speed of a point guard with the stature of a big man,” Abdul-Jabbar remarked on stage. “He demonstrated how to win basketball on the defensive end of the court by out-thinking and out-smarting opponents with his intellect as much as his body.”
Kareem also complimented Bill for all of his off-the-court accomplishments, saying that he deserved to be recognized.
“Bill’s legacy is as deep as it is exciting, whether it’s his lifelong dedication to civil rights or his position as the creator of MENTOR, a nationwide youth mentoring organization.”
Russell then went the stage to receive his prize, but it didn’t take long for him to become the evening’s highlight.
Bill Russell informed his other Hall of Famers on which among them was the greatest.
Bill Russell makes a joke about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, and Dikembe Mutombo. | Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for TNT
Russell, 83, shook the hands of each of the centers on stage who were presenting him with his trophy while holding his cane. He then presented Mutombo with his prize before starting his acceptance speech.
Russell glanced to his right in complete stillness. He started pointing down the line, one by one, to each NBA legend. Russell then spoke five words that brought the whole house down:
“I’d kick your arse.”
The crowd offered another standing ovation as all five centers on stage laughed uncontrollably. Russell, on the other hand, was eager to express his gratitude.
Russell remarked after his joke, “You have no clue how much respect I have for you guys.” “Because you accomplished it on your own time and in your own manner, which I like. And it made me pleased to have shared this experience with you.”
Russell was the ideal candidate for the first Lifetime Achievement Award.
We’ll never know whether Russell could have really kicked all of their you-know-whats. But, without a doubt, the Hall of Famer was the finest candidate for the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, which was subsequently awarded to Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson.
Russell has been selected as a 12-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA player, and five-time MVP. His firsts, on the other hand, are perhaps more remarkable. When he joined the Celtics as a player-coach in 1966, Bill became the first Black head coach in North American professional sports. He was also the first player to win an NCAA title, an NBA championship, and an Olympic gold medal all in the same season.
Bill’s accomplishments on and off the court have elevated him to one of the game’s greatest and most influential players. His sense of humor, it turns out, isn’t half terrible either.
Basketball Reference provided all statistics.
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