ESPN has been doing a countdown of greatest players in basketball history. While I knew they’d eventually draw my complete disrespect, I couldn’t believe how early they did it.
Somehow, for what must surely be considered an extreme bias toward recent happenings over history, Bill Russell, my absolute argument as #1, is ranked # 7. He is ranked 7 behind the following players, in an as-of-yet unreleased order: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and LeBron James.
A man with 11 rings is finishing behind folks who have, respectively, 6, 6, 2, 5, 3, and 2. In other words, take JUST RUSSELL, and you have to select Kareem and Jordan together to exceed his ring total. In fact, if you were to take Chamberlain, Bird, and LeBron together, you’d be four championships short of Russell.
So let’s think this over. Russell won 11 of the 13 championships he competed for. LeBron has already lost in the Finals four different times (Cavs in 2015 and 2007, Heat in 2011 and 2014), whereas Russell only lost one Finals and one non-appearance. LeBron has lost as many championships to #8, Tim Duncan, as Russell EVER LOST.
Bird’s presence on the list ahead of Russell is obscene, given that each of the men played for the same franchise. Bird delivered three titles. Russell did that in his first four years.
Did Bill Russell hit 3 pointers? No. Did he score 100 points in a game? No. Did he win dunk contests, and shape marketing for the NBA? No. No, he just won basketball games.
Except that that’s understating what Russell was. He set the stage for the modern NBA. In the days before civil rights, he was proving to be the standard by which all other players were measured. He opened the door for African-American coaches – being the first African-American professional basketball coach, and being the first African-American professional basketball coach to win a title, and did that as a player-coach. LeBron was whining recently about wanting to play for a coach who had actually played in the NBA; he should realize that Russell is a big part of the reason for that.
Russell wasn’t a media darling. Well, neither was Abdul-Jabbar, who I have number 2 on my list.
So – in honor of Russell’s finishing 7th on the list, I’d like to announce my selections for top networks that know more basketball. Coming in at #7 is ESPN.
Coming in at 1 through 6 – in an as-of-yet unspecified order – are TNT, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox, and the general populace of the Internet.
There is a reason the NBA Finals MVP trophy is the Bill Russell trophy. Not the Michael Jordan trophy. Not the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trophy. And DEFINITELY not the LeBron James trophy.
Note to ESPN: Winning COUNTS. And if winning counts, EVEN DOWN TO HOW HE DID IT, Russell – like in all but two years – wins.