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 20, 2006
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:57 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Mr. Russell drank his hatorade today!!!

Since: Sep 11, 2006
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:56 pm

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.


Since: Nov 25, 2010
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:47 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

To those of you who think Wilt would struggle against today's competition I simply say you obviously never saw him play and know nothing about his drive to compete and win. Same for Bill Russell. They were both in better shape than most centers today and were better basketball players. Russell especially would have frustrated guys like Shaq to tears. I'm sick and tired of players of the past getting short-changed. Just like I saw all of the Michael Jordan moves before Jordan did them. Reference Connie HAwkins and Julius Erving.

Since: Nov 26, 2008
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:41 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Mr. Berger's article will be really relevant to those that watch the special about Wilt's 100 point game at 7:00pm tonight. Bill Russell was so reluctant to discuss the event that it is his familiar voice narrating. Some NBA insider.

Since: Jan 20, 2007
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:40 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Actually truth is Mr. Russell, the greatest of all-time, was too busy counting his championship rings.

Since: Jan 4, 2011
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:31 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

   Anybody who questions Wilt's talent has got to be under 40.  He ran track in College.  He played for the Globetrotters - when they were better than most NBA teams are now.  He played professional volleyball.  Teams were still trying to talk him into returning a decade after he retired.  Keep in mind how small the NBA was in those days; he was playing against a guy like Russell, Jabbar, Reed, Cowens, Lanier, Daniels, Bellamy, and Unseld almost every single game.  Guys who would all be at least the 2nd best Center in today's watered-down joke of a League. 

Since: Jul 29, 2008
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:15 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.

Since: Jan 9, 2012
Posted on: March 2, 2012 3:13 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Balrog - sorry but those Lakers had just as a good caliber of teammates as Russell had on the Celtics, The difference was Wilt he Stilt did not have the DRIVE that Bill Russell had , and that is not a bad thing .... It was just Russell hated to LOSE more than any other player I have watched play and in the end that is what put Russell's Celtics teams over the Lakers time after time . The games where always close. ....... Wilt was th best scorer I have ever saw ( better than pistol pete and M.J. ) but Russell was and Is to this day the fiercest competitor and greatest Champion I have ever witnessed in Any Sport !!!!!!!

Since: May 17, 2008
Posted on: March 2, 2012 2:58 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

They don't get the recognition Jordan got because they played before cable sports channels were available.

More than that, very few games were even televised on network TV, or were tape delayed, much less live games and endless replays/highlights on cable sports channels, internet, twitter, etc etc.

Since: May 17, 2008
Posted on: March 2, 2012 2:54 pm

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.

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