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YouTube Gold: What Made Bill Russell Bill Russell

The man was always a step ahead

New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
 BOSTON - 1967: Bill Russell #6 of the Boston Celtics rebounds against Walt Bellamy #8 of the New York Knicks during a game played in 1967 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts.
Photo by Dick Raphael/NBAE via Getty Images

The late Bill Russell talked at one point about how people maybe didn’t realize how good an athlete he really was. He had world class speed and could really get off the ground (we linked a video not too long about where he just jumped over a guy in transition for a layup. That would have been impressive if the guy had been 5-5 but he was considerably taller than that).

What he didn’t say though was that a lot of his rivals had high-level talent. Wilt Chamberlain of course, but also Nate Thurmond, Walt Bellamy and Willis Reed, to name a few.

So it was never just his talent that made Russell so brilliant. It was his mind.

In this video, he says he realized that most of the people he was playing against were very insecure. He gives an example - well, he’s quoted - of how he got in Bellamy’s head.

But as usual, things with Chamberlain were more interesting.

Russell would start working on Chamberlain hours before game time. They would go out to dinner and Russell would get him to relax, to confide, to be friends.

But for Russell, true friendship would come later. Nothing was more important to him than winning and he would do anything, within the rules, to do it.

In basketball terms, the man was an absolute genius.