3. Russell seems to get credit for things that Wilt could never get credit for. This happened even at the time, when Wilt never got credit for sacrificing his offense for his teammates (a reporter instead said he simply couldn't score big anymore). Russell never gets blamed for his screwups or missed free throws. If Wilt Chamberlain hit the guard wire with an in-bounds pass in the deciding seconds of the 1965 Eastern Conference Final, he'd be called a choker.
yeah but there is a reason for this. its not that Russell never screwed up or that Wilt always screwed up. its that Russell more often than not played great and they won. i never said he was without error. but the trend does matter. it's not like people are gonna say "yeah, Russell may have won 11 championships, but he almost screwed one up." because then the argument boils down to "well he should have only
won 10 championships." when you consistently win, you earn the right to make a mistake here or there. if Wilt won 11 championships, nobody would ever criticize him either.
A focus on stats is no more wrong that a focus on championships, though.
of course it is. the entire point of playing the game is to win. to some extent, i understand your point: that its a team game and judging an individual on simply championships doesn't provide the full picture. otherwise Robert Horry is greater than Michael Jordan. i get that. but if the goal of the game is to win, then winning (when put into context) has to be the most important thing. the context of course is the variables: teammates, coaching, circumstances, etc. so if we start out with a simple fact: Russell won 11 championships, Wilt won 2. then we can break it down...
1. era: the same, give or take a few years. Russell won a couple before Wilt entered the league, and Wilt won one after Russell retired. but the bulk of their careers were played against each other.
2. coaching/teammates: this is the part where people argue that Russell's 11 are less impressive, because they argue that his teammates and coaching was superior. so lets agree that up through '65, the Celtics were loaded. we can even take it to the extreme and say lets erase all of those championships from Russell (go with me on this). let's start from scratch and give Wilt an equal playing field when comparing them through the rest of their careers while both were active (which actually puts Russell at a bit of a disadvantage because he was beginning to age and Wilt was right in his prime))...
Boston Celtics 54-26
Philadelphia 76ers 55-25
'66 Celtics: Russell, Sam Jones, Havlicek, Siegfried, Sanders, K.C. Jones, Nelson, Naulls
'66 Sixers: Wilt, Greer, Walker, Cunningham, Wali Jones, Luke Jackson, Gambee, Bianchi
Greer was right in the middle of a 10 year all-star run and made All-NBA 2nd team. Walker was slightly young (25, same age as Havlicek), but made his second All-Star team that year. Jackson made the all-star team the year before. Cunningham was a rookie, but made the all-rookie first team and would be an MVP candidate within three years. Wali Jones was also young (made the all-rookie team the year before). Bianchi was a career role player, but solid. same for Gambee.
Jones got a few MVP votes and was an all-star who made the All-NBA 2nd team with Greer. Havlicek was young (25) but was already great and made his first All-Star team. K.C. Jones was 33 and nearing the end of his career but was still solid. Sanders was a defensive stud in the prime of his career, but was average on offense (basically Bruce Bowen in '05). Nelson was nearly the original Adam Morrison, being considered a bust in his first three seasons before the Celtics took a chance on him (even then, he wasn't a huge contributor till a few years later). Siegfried has the first of a handful of quality seasons. Naulls was a great player when he was younger, but he ran into a brick wall at 30 and retired after this season.
verdict: obviously Jones, Greer and Havlicek are three of the greatest players ever. Jones may get a slight edge over Greer. and Havlicek was already worthy of being called the 5th best guy on the court (Russell, Wilt, Jones, Greer being top 4). but he wasn't that much better than Walker at that point in time. after that Jackson was a step ahead of any of the other Celtics and i'd take a young Cunningham over any of the other Celtics too. perhaps the 76ers were too young, but they had more talent overall than the Celtics. still, edge goes to Celtics barely because of experience and because they still had Auerbach coaching.
what happened: Sixers had home court and still lost the series 4-1. the scores were 115-96 (Celts), 114-93 (Celts), 111-105 (76ers), 114-108 (Celts), 120-112 (Celts). Chamberlain played average for the first two losses, stepped it up for the win, got shut down in game 4, and then exploded for his best game in game 5 with 46 points (problem was, he shot 8-25 from the line). Russell was Russell, not putting up huge points but playing nearly every minute, holding Wilt below 25 for three of those losses (including 15 in game 4. Wilt averaged 33 that season), and leading the Celtics in assists while Jones and Havlicek took the scoring burden. it definitely wasn't all Russell. and credit should go to the whole team for excellent defense. but then of course Russell went and had a monster series against the Lakers to win the championship. important note, every statistical category that truly matters went up for Russell in the playoffs. the opposite for Wilt, who saw decreases in everything but rebounds.
Boston Celtics 60-21
Philadelphia 76ers 68-13
'67 Celtics: Russell, Havlicek, Sam Jones, Howell, Siegfried, Sanders, KC Jones, Nelson
'67 Sixers: Wilt, Greer, Walker, Jones, Cunningham, Jackson, Guokas, Gambee
same basic roster but i'll point out a few major differences. Walker and Cunningham hit their stride this season and were far and away better than anyone 4-8 on the Celtics (even Howell). whatever small advantage Jones had on Greer the season before was gone by this season (Jones was a full 3 years older at 33 years old this season, although he still played great). the Sixers had an insanely talented top 6 by this point with the improved Cunningham. this was basically the exact same team that still won 55 games without Wilt in '69, and they've been called the greatest team in history by some. so here's my question: why is it that people are so quick to take credit away from Russell for having great teammates, but not from Wilt for needing quite possibly one of the best supporting casts in history to win his first title? it works both ways, doesn't it? throw in the fact that Russell was player-coach by this point (no Auerbach on the sidelines), and this is a huge advantage to the Sixers.
what happened: the Sixers turned the tables and won 4-1, as they should have. the scores were 127-113 (76ers), 107-102 (76ers), 115-104 (76ers), 121-117 (Celts), 140-116 (76ers). Greer nearly put up 40 in game 1. this time it was Wilt who took the Russell role and led the Sixers in assists while Greer dominated the scoring. it was Wilt's shining series, as Russell played horribly in game 6 and the Sixers went on to win the title.
'68 Celtics: Russell, Havlicek, Sam Jones, Howell, Sanders, Siegfried, Nelson, Embry
'68 Sixers: Wilt, Greer, Walker, Cunningham, Jones, Jackson, Gaukas, Green
this is a slightly more difficult season, because while the Sixers far and away had more talent during the regular season, they also lost Cunningham for the Celtics series in the playoffs, which pretty much evened the playing field, especially with Bailey Howell playing the way he was. at this point, Walker and Greer were both in peak form, while Sam Jones was seeing his decline at 34 years old. but Havlicek was even better. i call it even with maybe a slight advantage to the Celtics.
what happened: Sixers took a 3-1 lead but ended up losing the series in 7. scores were 127-118 (Celts), 115-106 (76ers), 122-114 (76ers), 110-105 (76ers), 122-104 (Celts), 114-106 (Celts), 100-96 (Celts). this was overall as even as it could get, with each star player trading big games through the series (Greer, Jones, Havlicek, Russell, Chamberlain, Walker). it was two evenly matched teams going 7 games just as you'd expect. Celtics won and went on to win the title
'69 Celtics: Russell, Havlicek, Jones, Howell, Sanders, Nelson, Siegfried, Em Bryant
'69 Lakers: Wilt, West, Baylor, Egan, Counts, Hewitt, Erickson, Hawkins
Russell and Jones' last year. and while the Lakers certainly had a depth problem, they also had Jerry West and Elgin Baylor playing 40 minutes a game. there is no way in hell that the Celtics should have won this series. you have three of the top 14 greatest players of all time on the Lakers here. i know Havlicek/Jones were great, but they weren't West/Elgin (who led the Lakers to the finals in '68 without Wilt). and Howell/Sanders weren't gonna make up the difference.
what happened: the Celtics won in 7 with Wilt getting benched at the end of the game while West played out of his mind. scores were 120-118 (Lakers), 118-112 (Lakers), 111-105 (Celts), 89-88 (Celts), 117-104 (Lakers), 99-90 (Celts), 108-106 (Celts). neither Wilt or Russell's stats jump off the page (Wilt's are surprisingly un-Wilt with two single digit scoring games, but Russell had single digit scoring games all the time so i won't hold that against him). really, Jerry West stole the show here. but the Celtics won, for the 3rd time in 4 years.
verdict: Celts had the advantage slightly the first year, and won easily. Sixers had the advantage by a huge margin the second, and won easily. year three was fairly even and the Celts won. Lakers should have crushed them in year 4 but the Celts won (although credit really should go to Havlicek and West for this one).
if you just had these four years to go by, wouldn't you say it's pretty dead even? i would. considering Russell won 3 out of 4 with only one superior team (but i'm saying its even because the last championship i don't think should matter in the Russell vs Wilt debate since it was basically a West vs Havlicek showdown, and year 3 happened exactly the way it should have happened given the talent involved). but here's the thing: Russell had 3 extra seasons on his body during this stretch, and still played dead even with Wilt during his peak. so how does Wilt come out on top with their whole careers taken into consideration? with Russell's other 8 titles and 5 MVPs? from 58-65, Russell was the best player on the planet and nobody would dispute it (even with Wilt's stats). 5 MVPs in an 8 year stretch that included 7 titles (albeit with a great supporting cast). Wilt won 3 straight MVPs from 66-68 and won one title (also with one of the greatest supporting casts ever), with the other two going to Russell. and Russell topped it off with a title going out over a team that consisted of three of the top 14 players of all-time.
which is exactly why in 1980, Russell (not Wilt) was selected the greatest player of all-time when the 35th anniversary team was selected (he was also the only unanimous player on the 25th anniversary team, but Wilt was ineligible for that team cause he was still playing, so who knows he might have been too if he was eligible). and why the finals mvp was named after him.
(although, I still think KC Jones is in because of his college career, which included a Russell-less championship).
when did this happen? KC Jones won two championships in college (technically), both with Russell. but in fact, Jones actually missed the tournament in '56, while Russell put up a 26/27 championship game. in '55, Russell was named most outstanding player of the tournament.
which is actually another reason to love Russell. he didn't just win as a Celtic, but was responsible for one of the greatest college seasons ever (even without Jones in the postseason) along with another college championship the year before, was captain for the US Mens gold medal team in '56, and coached himself during his last two championship seasons. he was the greatest defensive player in history and since you also include historical importance in your criteria, i'll point out that Russell was the single most important player in NBA history in terms of changing the game with his athleticism (a year before Baylor and 3 before Wilt). that doesn't even count his historical importance in coaching.