When we posted the YouTube Gold about young Wilt Chamberlain the other day, our plan was to do a series on young big men captured as young players and/or as they began to become dominant players.
After doing that though we thought it would be better to expand that concept to the emergence of great players. Some, like Lew Alcindor, now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, were widely anticipated. Some, like Larry Bird, seemed to come out of nowhere.
We may be seeing one of those emergences now with Zion OMG Williamson rising.
It’s an amazing experience and having a bit of historical perspective is good. So with that in mind, here’s some rare video of Bill Russell’s second national championship at San Francisco which was also his team’s 55th straight win.
At that point, he was known but not fully appreciated. Shotblocking was new enough that some coaches were offended that you would leave your feet on defense.
In this game, believe it or not, Russell had 26 points, 27 rebounds and 20 - yes, 20 - blocked shots.
This was 63 years ago and some of it really does look dated. Russell shoots underhanded free throws here and also an old-style hook shot that most young players have never tried, much less mastered. Too bad - for a bigger guy, say. Marvin Bagley, it would be nearly impossible to block. Pistons great Bob Lanier, who weighed around 270, used it and he was so wide it was literally untouchable. No one has really done it since Kareem retired the Skyhook. It’s a lost art which is too bad.
However, there is a lot here that will look familiar. Russell not only starts fast breaks with rebounds and blocks, he finishes them too. He’s really swift and he’s in total control of this game.
Note too that 63 years ago, there was no concept of a hard block, of just giving the ball right back. Russell tries to tip it to a teammate, starting a fast break, or to recover it and get his team moving that way.
There is one play here which crosses the decades. In fact, we’re not sure we’ve ever seen anyone do it before.
Watch as Russell does one single hard block - this one off the backboard - and turns it into an outlet pass. It’s really brilliant. Who would have ever anticipated that 63 years ago?
After this championship, Russell would win Gold in the Olympics with the US team then his first NBA title with the Boston Celtics in 1957. Boston would miss in 1958 when he was out with an injury, then win every title until 1967, when Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers had their great year.
Then Russell and his Celtics won it again in 1968 and 1969.
So if you’re counting, his team won every possible title between 1955 and 1969 except for two, and in one of those he couldn’t play.
There’s never been anyone like him and his argument for the GOAT is as good as anyone’s ever will be.
Incidentally, for those who think he couldn’t compete in today’s game, keep in mind that he consistently dominated Wilt Chamberlain, who remains the most athletic big man in NBA history and who is arguably still the best athlete the league has ever seen.
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