There’s a resurgence in Air Mania lately with “The Last Dance” documentary about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls and many people arguing that he, not LeBron James, was the greatest player of all time.
And obviously Jordan has an argument and, for our money, his is stronger than LeBron’s.
He still has to contend with Bill Russell though.
Russell played primarily in the ‘60s and so much has changed since then. There was no ESPN, no Internet, no modern training or athletic technology and only a handful of teams in the NBA. And all of those are fair points in Russell’s favor, especially the last one.
Russell played when there were around 100 players in the NBA. In 1965, for instance, this was the entire NBA: Philly, Boston, Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, St. Louis, San Francisco and Detroit.
That meant that Russell had to face, on a very regular basis, Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, Nate Thurmond and several other quality big men.
There were no nights off.
Aside from that though, Russell’s reason for choosing himself was that he made his teammates better and not just better but consistently great.
That’s true, but it’s also a bit modest. Russell was also a great talent, both physically and intellectually. Like Jordan, he mastered the game and convinced the rest of the league that he was unbeatable. And with 11 championships in 13 years, he pretty much was.
Jordan has a real argument but no one will ever best Russell in that way.