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: Oct 23, 2009
Posted on: March 2, 2012 1:32 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

 "...Bill Russell, pretty much dominated him when they played."
No he didn't.  Chamberlain dominated Russell on an individual basis.  But Russell's teams dominated all the other teams, and Russell gets great credit for being a major part of that.

Since: Mar 1, 2012
Posted on: March 2, 2012 12:55 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Tell me what those things  are that Jordan did noone else has ever done. Wilt was a more prolific scorer than Jordan was. Russell won more championships.  It's like comparing Lambo to a Ferrari to a Bentley a matter of taste as to which you like more.  I guess if you think hypeing  shoes and being popular counts as much as winning titles you have a case. THE OBJECT OF THE GAME IS TO WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS.

Since: Mar 2, 2012
Posted on: March 2, 2012 12:39 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

I agree Jordan is one of the greatest of all time, but I don't think that it's without question. If jodan had played in the same era as Wilt and Bill Russell would he have won all those rings? Obviously it's impossible to know, but when you talk about doing something that people hadn't seen before, I think 100 points in a game is pretty unique, also never before or since has any player ever dominated a game from a defensive/rebounding perspective like Bill Russell (he only averaged 15.1 ppg for his career). I'm not saying Jordan isn't the best player of all time, but to claim him as the greatest without question is beyond silly.

Since: Sep 6, 2006
Posted on: March 2, 2012 12:21 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.

This is partially true.  The other part is that Jordan is without question the greatest basketball player who ever lived. 

This would not be any different if Russell and Wilt were on TV constantly.  They'd still both be giants who scored a vast majority of their points in the paint and who did things many men since them - e.g. Shaq, Olajuwon, Ewing, etc. - have done as well or nearly as well. 

By contrast, Jordan did things no one had ever done before.  And although Kobe and LeBron will probably be thought of as close to Jordan by the time they're done (LeBron will be skill-wise, even if he doesn't win the titles), they still can't do some of the things Jordan could do.

And that's why Jordan is the greatest ever. 

Since: Nov 23, 2006
Posted on: March 2, 2012 12:02 pm

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Wilt did have his rivals.  He even played long enough to have one with Alcindor/Jabbar.  Wilt's gone but he is recognized, as is Russell and Jabbar, as one of the greatest to have ever played the game.  All very deserving of Hall of Fame stature.

Kind of selfish for Russell to not share his thoughts on this anniversary but coming from a guy who won't sign autographs either it doesn't surprise me.

The other one, Jabbar, is busy complaining about the fact that the Staples Center still doesn't have a statue of him out in front.

I suppose one day when Russell or even Jabbar is no longer with us perhaps they would deserve or even want a rival or so-called friend to react the way Russell did toward Chamberlain in their memory or an accomplishment.

How about in Wilt and Russell's case that "each brought out the best in the other."  Kind of a classy thing to say unless, well, you are still one of those wrapped around which one you think is/was better or which one won the most championships.  It was still a team game back then too.  Each had good supporting casts.

Oh well. I never give Russell props for having class.  Then again would I ever want to reminisce about Russell?  Well, especially now, NOT REALLY.

Since: Jan 21, 2007
Posted on: March 2, 2012 11:56 am

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Let me make a correction who was the Lakers coach at that time: it's was Bill van Breda Kolff, not his son, Jan, the ex-NBA player from Vanderbilt. That decision alone of not letting Chamberlain back in the game, was van Breda Kolff being fired by the Lakers afterwards. Also, I don't blame Bill Russell for not talking about Chamberiain's record, Wilt didn't put up the 100 against Russell. Ken Berger should be calling Darrall Imhoff, the center for the Knicks who was guarding Wilt during that game. But who would know that they were traded for each other in 1968.

Since: Mar 1, 2012
Posted on: March 2, 2012 11:48 am

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Lol Actually I'm a Laker fan since the  West, Goodrich, Baylor days. You can't deny 11 rings out of 13 years is more remarkable than anything Jordan,  did. 

Since: Oct 11, 2006
Posted on: March 2, 2012 11:31 am

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Imagine that comment coming from a CELTICS fan, gee you think you are bias? Click , Drag, Delete.

Since: Mar 1, 2012
Posted on: March 2, 2012 11:30 am

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

The best player to ever play the game was/is Bill Russell.  11 rings in 13 years is twice that of Jordan Kobe Magic Bird... How can you argue that? The purpose of the game is to win championships.  The best scorer the game has ever seen is Wilt.  They don't get the recognition Jordan got because they played before cable sports channels were available.

Since: Aug 9, 2010
Posted on: March 2, 2012 11:21 am

On Wilt's day, Russell takes a pass

Whatever, Wilt was a man among boys back then.  No one was close to him in size and stature.  And, the one guy who was, Bill Russell, pretty much dominated him when they played.  Overall, Bill Russell was a much better big man.

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