Blog Entry

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Posted on: March 1, 2012 7:57 pm
The 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game is not only an occasion to remember the accomplishment, but also the man.

What better way to reflect on Chamberlain’s signature moment than through the eyes of his friend and most bitter rival?

So I called Bill Russell, the 11-time champion of the Celtics, and asked if he’d be so kind as to share his thoughts about the occasion 50 years ago Friday. I’ll provide his response, followed by the context.
The response from Russell: “Not really.”

“Is it a bad time, or is it a topic you don’t really want to talk about?”

“A little of both,” he said.

And that was that. I apologized for the intrusion and wished Russell the best.

“No intrusion,” Russell said. “And thank you.”

I shared the conversation with Sy Goldberg, Chamberlain’s longtime friend and attorney. On the phone from Los Angeles, Goldberg was neither surprised nor particularly offended by Russell’s reaction.

“There was a love-hate relationship between these two guys,” Goldberg said.

Let it be noted that Russell, who turned 78 last month, harbors no grudges or animosity toward Chamberlain – nothing different than they ever did, anyway. Goldberg said in the old days, the NBA used to schedule the Sixers and Celtics on Thanksgiving Day, and when the game was in Philadelphia, Russell was a guest at casa de Chamberlain for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Russell was there all the time,” Goldberg said. “They were close friends.”

But Chamberlain never forgave Russell for questioning his toughness after Lakers coach Jan van Breda Kolff refused to put an injured Chamberlain back into Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Celtics. Chamberlain had asked out with six minutes left and asked back in with three minutes left, but van Breda Kolff declined. The Celtics won, 108-106, for their second straight championship and last of the Russell era.

“That day, Russell said something like, ‘I don’t care how bad he was, I would never have come out of the game,’” Goldberg said. “Wilt never forgave him for that.”

But with Russell and Chamberlain, the hard feelings weren’t permanent. On the day Chamberlain died of heart failure, Oct. 12, 1999, Goldberg got a call from a frantic Russell, who didn’t want to believe the news.

“I had been called by the gardener, and the police were there, and it was real pandemonium,” Goldberg said. “And I got a call from Bill Russell. His quote was: ‘I wouldn’t believe any news at all unless you tell me it’s true.’ And he sounded like he was devastated.”

In the old days, Chamberlain got all the attention and Russell got most of the championships. So on the eve of Wilt’s 100-point anniversary, the old Celtic stays quiet.

Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s how Wilt would’ve wanted it.

Since: Sep 13, 2008
Posted on: March 3, 2012 1:03 am

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

So by using this expert theory, you would say that NFL QB's like Doug Williams and Jeff Hostetler and the guy from Baltimore were better than Dan Marino becasue they have a ring and Marino doesnt.  If I decided to spend more time on this I could make you look worse but I wont.  Reputation 0 says enough.

Since: Jun 26, 2007
Posted on: March 3, 2012 12:53 am

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass


Anybody that thinks Wilt would not be a dominant center today never saw him play!

Wilt had Howard's strength and athleticism and Jordan/Kobe's competiveness.

He would be better because the competition would be better.

Those that never saw him play, you really did miss a special player.

100 points today, I don't think so, but he would still be a superstar today.

I agree 100 percent.  Wilt and Russell would be more dominate today then in there hey day.  They played fundamentals back then and Wilt didnt like to dunk because he didnt like to show up other players.  Imagine a 7"1 center who was an olympic caliber high jumper.  "WOW".  Imagaine Dennis Rodman's workmanship 3 inches taller in Russell.  They would put these center's today to shame!!!

Since: Aug 20, 2006
Posted on: March 3, 2012 12:53 am

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

"Yeah in this day of great centers, Wilt would just be average"

Tim Duncan is basically a center despite being listed at PF.  I know he's past his prime now, but still, he's recent enough to count.  And in the late 90s early 2000s you had Mourning, Robinson, Olajuwon, O'Neal, and Ewing all pretty dominant at the center position. 

Since: Dec 20, 2006
Posted on: March 2, 2012 6:50 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Wilt just beat up on terrible competition. I would love to see him try to get half that in todays NBA. He was a man among boys back then.
Yeah in this day of great centers, Wilt would just be average. Today there are great centers like ............. um........... well Howard is very good and then there is ......................... never mind.

Since: Jan 1, 2010
Posted on: March 2, 2012 5:51 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Johnjaun, I agree that whoever had the most rings is the greatest player. That is why I say that Hank Bauer was the greatest baseball player ever. Far better than Henry AAron or Ted Williams. Williams had no rings, Hank played with the Yanks and won I think maybe 8 or 9 rings. What did Williams win Zilch. Aaron I am thinking one WS. Those inividual accomplishments don't mean squat Right.

Since: Jun 24, 2008
Posted on: March 2, 2012 5:37 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Posted on: March 2, 2012 2:54 pmScore: 99 

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

If he had had Russell's focus and determination, he probably would have been on a dozen championship teams
I think what you meant is "if he had Russell's caliber of teammates he probably would have been on a dozen championship teams" right?  Basketball is a team game after all and most years Russell's Celtics simply had more talent top to bottom than Wilt's teams which certainly helped Russell, a great player no doubt, win those championships that Wilt did not.  Again, remember, it is a team game, not one on one.

Wilt played on many teams (for the 76ers and Lakers) that had greater talent than the Celtics had.  The Celtics "stole" many championships from more talented teams because they played so smartly and with a lot of determination. I watched a lot of Russell/Chamberlain match-ups back in the day (I'm no spring chicken) and Chamberlain would disappear down the stretch or force a bad shot just at the crucial moment.  The Celtics, on the other hand, were relentless and hardly ever gave a game away.  You had to take it from them. The difference often came down to the level of intensity and Russell had Chamberlain there.

Since: Jun 24, 2008
Posted on: March 2, 2012 5:28 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Yes.  I'm 61 years old and probably saw the Russell/Chamberlain match-up, either live or on television over 100 times. 

Since: Sep 6, 2006
Posted on: March 2, 2012 4:38 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

I wish I was old enough to have seen both play live.  As it is, I have only seen them, on occasion, on grainy black and white.  But watching those is like watching a young Cassius know you are seeing the best ever, so it's nice to stop and appreciate them for a few minutes.  Wish I could see more...

Since: Apr 7, 2010
Posted on: March 2, 2012 4:32 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Chamberlain was a world class athlete. If he played in the NBA today he would be a major force. Same with Russell.

Since: Mar 1, 2012
Posted on: March 2, 2012 4:08 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Be fair. Mr Russell is 78 y.o. how many times do you think he has had this same question asked him over the past 50 years?  At some point anyone would get tired of being asked the same thing year after year! What can he say that he hasnt said already.

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