We’ve talked about Bill Russell in this space before. His accomplishments are insane: two undefeated seasons at San Francisco, two titles, Olympic gold, 11 championships in the NBA and 21 game sevens, all wins. It’s an insane standard that will never be topped. Write it down, hear it now believe it later, no one is ever going to to match this staggering level of accomplishment.
In this video, Russell speaks about his physical talent and says a couple of things that we never heard before. Quoting the man himself: “I was...one of the best athletes on the planet. I ran hurdles and I long-jumped. I was ranked #2 and #3 best high jumper in track and field in the whole world. And I can run the 400 meters in the 40s. My vertical...I could get my eyes above the rim and I could touch the top of the backboard.”
He was listed at 6-9 and if you shave off, let’s say, four inches from the eyes to the top of the head, that would make his vertical somewhere over 43”. Let’s say around 45” to get his eyes over the rim.
He’s certainly right: if you can run that fast (the current record for the 400 meter dash is 43.03 and this year’s best so far is 46.09.
As we’ve pointed out before, he competed in the ‘50s and ‘60s without the breakthroughs in training and equipment athletes benefit from today.
He also talks about how he played the game. Duke’s Coach K doesn’t want players to think but to react. Russell?
He thought the game and did it on an incredibly high level. Just listen to his comments on blocking shots for one.
None of that is why we picked this video though. We picked it because the actual footage is as good as we’ve ever seen of Russell, who retired a decade before ESPN came along and began to change the way we perceive sports.
Imagine him as an 18-year-old today, with his gifts and intelligence and the impact he could have today. He’d still be phenomenal. Actually, he’d probably tell you - perhaps correctly - that he’d be even better.