Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

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Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by bobheckler on Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:02 pm

http://www.boston.com/sports/touching_all_the_bases/2013/02/rajon_rondo_1.html



Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett, and selfless play



By Chad Finn, Boston.com Columnist


On the occasion of Bill Russell's 79th birthday, I offer one of countless statistics in support of his unmatched brilliance and unique place as team sports' greatest winner.

At age 34, in his final NBA season, he averaged 19.3 rebounds per game -- the second-lowest single-season total of his career. Bonus Russell stat: He dished out 4.9 assists per game that season, an average Jason Terry -- a guard -- hasn't managed in the past six seasons.

Let Doc Rivers in on those ridiculous items of confirmation concerning Russell's unmatched brilliance and he'd probably be pleading with him to give 10 good minutes off the bench Wednesday night against Joakim Noah and the Bulls.

Actually, Doc, who embraces the history of the league and the franchise as much as any contemporary NBA personality, is probably well aware of all of Russell's various incredible feats. (OK, permit me one more quirky one: Russell averaged just 8.4 shots per game during his final season -- almost one shot fewer per game than Brandon Bass is averaging this season.)

It seems appropriate to acknowledge Russell today not just because it's his birthday or because it's always appropriate to acknowledge Russell, but because his extraordinary victory-above-all-personal-glory approach to the sport has ancestral branches with the incredibly likable current edition of the Celtics.

Look at that Sports Illustrated cover from five whole seasons ago. (Five-plus seasons? Has it really been that long? It really has been that long.) Now go ahead, ask yourself this: How much mutual admiration must there be between Russell and Kevin Garnett, who is as unselfish and team-obsessed as any player, superstar or otherwise, of his generation?

And how fun has it been to watch KG, who turns 37 in May and is older now than Russell was when he walked away, rage against his age during this recent stretch in which the defiant Celtics have lost more players to apparently season-ending injuries than they've lost games?

Monday night's justifiable loss to the Bobcats excepted, the Celtics are playing wildly entertaining winning basketball. When Garnett and Paul Pierce have stepped away from the parquet and moved along to Springfield, we'll remember the triple-overtime victory over the Nuggets Sunday night as one of the most rewarding regular-season performances during their time here as teammates.

Watching them play now, fighting for every last inch their aging legs and extraordinary savvy will allow, I'm almost convinced that their last days in Boston won't be tinged with the broken-bodied sadness that accompanied the decline of the original Big Three, particularly Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. They're ancient by NBA standards, sure, but KG and Pierce aren't breaking down, not yet, and their will is so incredible that I don't want to see them play anywhere else but here. Barring any more season-ending injuries, the status quo works for me, Danny.

Besides, I don't think we could handle the culture shock of watching the likes of DeMarcus Cousins mope through, oh, a Tuesday night game in Orlando after watching KG bring it every single night for so many years.

There is a third Celtic who, though much younger, is a respected peer of KG and Pierce, having played a crucial role in winning that 17th banner and in so many memorable on-court battles with the Heat, Lakers, Bulls and lesser rivals since. Of course, Rajon Rondo is absent now, the Celtics ripping off seven straight wins before Monday's loss in the aftermath of his season-ending knee injury, and so it seems every game doubles as a referendum on just how important or unimportant the brilliant, flawed point guard is.

There's no doubt they've had their best run of basketball in his absence, with KG (shooting) and Pierce (facilitating) taking on even more responsibility and some of the crucial supporting cast suddenly thriving (by coincidence or not) since he went down. Jeff Green is playing with confidence and aggression, and at his best you're damn straight there's a little James Worthy in his game. Terry is hitting shots he was missing when Rondo was running the show, and he's come right up the line without outright saying that he's more comfortable when Rondo isn't running the show and dominating the ball.

While being mildly amused at the enigmatic tangle of Rondo's career -- he's called selfish for passing too much, and yet somehow the offense is playing with greater urgency and efficiency in the absence of one of the sport's premier playmakers -- I simply refuse to believe that the team will be better off in the long run without him, and not just because he's a guy who can drop 40 stylish points on the Heat or win a playoff series by himself. I don't know if this was ever said of Russell (I doubt it), but it has been suggested of KG and it also applies to Rondo: He needs to score more when the opportunity is there. Of course, with KG, his reluctance to shoot is perceived rightfully as unselfishness. With Rondo, he's accused of wanting to pad his assist totals above all else.

What I've recognized during this stretch of outstanding play and reassuring victories since Rondo's injury is this: There is actually room for this wonderful player to significantly improve. He needs to make the effort to get to the rim more often -- I feel like he really can do this at will -- and he needs to finish when he gets there rather than kicking the ball out habitually. He needs to forget about the embarrassment of missing a free throw and not let his issues at the line render him passive late in games. He needs to distribute the ball before 20 seconds have ticked off the shot clock. He needs to do everything he can to make sure his teammates are in the right spot to thrive, just as he did with pet project Avery Bradley last year.

He can do all of this things on top of all of his various otherworldly talents and skills. It's up to him whether he does, whether he becomes truly team-focused in that rare Russell/Garnett manner.

But it speaks to the uniqueness of Rondo -- and yes, to his enigmatic ways -- that a reduced assist total upon his return might actually be an indication that he's more unselfish than ever, at last ready to provide whatever it his his team needs on any given night.




bob



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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by Outside on Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:54 pm

Regarding Russell, I usually tune out the whole NBA all-star weekend crap-fest, but my ears did perk up when I heard that the NBA channel will be airing a one-hour interview of Bill Russell by Bill Simmons on (I believe) Monday. I've seen and read about everything on Russell, so I don't expect to hear anything new, but I always consider the main benefit of these types of things as an opportunity to educate people who think Michael Jordan or LeBron James is unquestionably the greatest player the game has ever seen because only someone who played in the SportsCenter age is truly appreciated. A one-hour interview won't correct that imbalance, but if it opens a few eyes around the country, that's a good thing.

As for Rondo, almost as interesting as how well he physically recovers will be to see if he adjusts his game when he returns. Does he want to be the leader of the band, the guy in control? Or does he want to be part of a team that is more successful because everyone is subservient to the good of the team? His stubbornness is both his greatest asset and biggest weakness.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by worcester on Wed Feb 13, 2013 2:56 pm

Bob,

Once again, thanks for such a literate, insightful, and soulful commentary on Bill Russell, KG, PP, and Rajon. It's such a pleasure to read your writings.

Sure wish you could join us in Boston March 16th. I bought my tix and will be there for the celebration with my older son. W

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by tjmakz on Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:04 pm

Outside wrote:Regarding Russell, I usually tune out the whole NBA all-star weekend crap-fest, but my ears did perk up when I heard that the NBA channel will be airing a one-hour interview of Bill Russell by Bill Simmons on (I believe) Monday. I've seen and read about everything on Russell, so I don't expect to hear anything new, but I always consider the main benefit of these types of things as an opportunity to educate people who think Michael Jordan or LeBron James is unquestionably the greatest player the game has ever seen because only someone who played in the SportsCenter age is truly appreciated. A one-hour interview won't correct that imbalance, but if it opens a few eyes around the country, that's a good thing.

As for Rondo, almost as interesting as how well he physically recovers will be to see if he adjusts his game when he returns. Does he want to be the leader of the band, the guy in control? Or does he want to be part of a team that is more successful because everyone is subservient to the good of the team? His stubbornness is both his greatest asset and biggest weakness.

Outside,

Is it safe to assume that in your opinion, neither Michael Jordan or Lebron James is the greatest player of all-time?
I can't put Bill Russell there just because he helped win 11 titles.
Even though I never saw Babe Ruth play, I would agree that he is the greatest baseball player of all-time.
Not that I by any means want to get into a "who's the greatest" discussion but for the majority of NBA fans, even those that didn't cut their teeth while watching Sportscenter/League Pass, the majority of people consider Michael Jordan as the best player of all-time.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by worcester on Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:26 pm

I've seen both MJ and Bill Russell play and cannot say one is better than the other. They're both the best IMHO. Both were true champions able to inspire/empower their teammates and both were able to overcome extreme physical adversity to win.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by bobheckler on Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:32 pm

worcester wrote:Bob,

Once again, thanks for such a literate, insightful, and soulful commentary on Bill Russell, KG, PP, and Rajon. It's such a pleasure to read your writings.

Sure wish you could join us in Boston March 16th. I bought my tix and will be there for the celebration with my older son. W


worcester,

I hate to deflate your lofty opinions of me, but I didn't write this, I was just cutting and pasting someone else's work.

Turns out I'm not Hemingway after all...


bob


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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by worcester on Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:34 pm

Well Bob, you're one great cutter and paster. Matisse made quite a good living that way.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by Outside on Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:49 pm

tjmakz wrote:Outside,

Is it safe to assume that in your opinion, neither Michael Jordan or Lebron James is the greatest player of all-time?
I can't put Bill Russell there just because he helped win 11 titles.
Even though I never saw Babe Ruth play, I would agree that he is the greatest baseball player of all-time.
Not that I by any means want to get into a "who's the greatest" discussion but for the majority of NBA fans, even those that didn't cut their teeth while watching Sportscenter/League Pass, the majority of people consider Michael Jordan as the best player of all-time.
My personal belief is that no one can be designated as the greatest of all time. What I do is say that certain players have played the game at the highest level and that no one has played better.

It is obviously difficult (some might say impossible or meaningless) to compare players in different eras. But I still do, to an extent, for purposes of my personal ranking of players. For example, Mikan, Russell, and Wilt all revolutionized the game and were each dominant in their time, but while I recognize Mikan's impact as the first dominant center, I don't think he was anywhere near the player that Russell and Wilt were.

Comparing players at different positions is equally difficult. Russell dominated the game defensively, rebounded as well as anyone ever has, fed the fast break that was the engine of the Celtics offense, turned the blocked shot into an outlet pass, was a underappreciated passer, and despite limited shooting ability managed to average 15 points per game over his career. How do you compare that with what Jordan did and say one was better than the other? If I do, all I can say is that Jordan was a better scorer, but you'd have to convince me that he was better than Russell in any other way.

Michael Jordan was a great player. You get no argument from me on that. But he wasn't better than a bunch of other guys. Here are the names I put at the top

Russell
Wilt
Kareem
Bill Walton, for that brief time he was healthy and at the top of his game
Oscar Robertson
Elgin Baylor
Jerry West
Bird
Magic
Jordan

You might be able to convince me to add Tim Duncan and Bob Cousy.

I've got a host of players who would go in group right under those guys. But you can't convince me that one of those players is the greatest of all time over those other players.


Last edited by Outside on Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:48 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by Outside on Wed Feb 13, 2013 4:00 pm

By the way, there's a reason I chose an avatar with multiple players in it -- they are four of the best centers of all time. From left to right, the photo has Kareem, Russell, and Bill Walton, three that I put into that select group of the greatest players, and Nate Thurmond, who was my favorite player growing up and I grudgingly put into the group just below the greatest players. When I found the photo, I immediately thought of it as a photo of four all-time greats, not a photo of the greatest player of all time and three other players.

I played center and have a deep affinity for the position, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I'm fond of that photo. If I could get rid of George Lucas and his son from the photo, I suppose I would, but I do find it interesting that Russell has his arm around the boy and is engaging him in a little conversation.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by sam on Wed Feb 13, 2013 5:34 pm

One reason Bill Russell was so great was that he was on a team on which no one ever thought in terms of who was the greatest.

I've seen them all. I've seen the great clutch shots,the great volume scoring, the great defensive plays, the great blocks, the great steals
the great ball distribution, the crushing defense, the fantastic rebounding, the tragedies, the huzzahs, and the boos.

And I've only seen one NBA basketball player who absolutely refused to lose the truly big ones and could impose that will consistently with a couple of
big ones of his own. No one else. No one. No one.

The only reason I don't just dissolve with laughter when anyone says someone other than Russ is/was the greatest NBA player ever is because it's an un-Celticlike discussion to get into. Who won virtually all the big games in which he played? That's really all that counts.

To say that Bill Russell is/was the greatest would be totally redundant because he's the gold standard in the first place.

Sam Jones gets the last word: "No one compares to Bill Russell. He was the smartest, most driven basketball player the game has ever seen. To this day, he remains the
single most influential force in team sports of any kind."

Sam

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by tjmakz on Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:26 pm

Outside wrote:
tjmakz wrote:Outside,

Is it safe to assume that in your opinion, neither Michael Jordan or Lebron James is the greatest player of all-time?
I can't put Bill Russell there just because he helped win 11 titles.
Even though I never saw Babe Ruth play, I would agree that he is the greatest baseball player of all-time.
Not that I by any means want to get into a "who's the greatest" discussion but for the majority of NBA fans, even those that didn't cut their teeth while watching Sportscenter/League Pass, the majority of people consider Michael Jordan as the best player of all-time.
My personal belief is that no one can be designated as the greatest of all time. What I do is say that certain players have played the game at the highest level and that no one has played better.

It is obviously difficult (some might say impossible or meaningless) to compare players in different eras. But I still do, to an extent, for purposes of my personal ranking of players. For example, Mikan, Russell, and Wilt all revolutionized the game and were each dominant in their time, but while I recognize Mikan's impact as the first dominant center, I don't think he was anywhere near the player that Russell and Wilt were.

Comparing players at different positions is equally difficult. Russell dominated the game defensively, rebounded as well as anyone ever has, fed the fast break that was the engine of the Celtics offense, turned the blocked shot into an outlet pass, was a underappreciated passer, and despite limited shooting ability managed to average 15 points per game over his career. How do you compare that with what Jordan did and say one was better than the other? If I do, all I can say is that Jordan was a better scorer, but you'd have to convince me that he was better than Russell in any other way.

Michael Jordan was a great player. You get no argument from me on that. But he wasn't better than a bunch of other guys. Here are the names I put at the top

Russell
Wilt
Kareem
Bill Walton, for that brief time he was healthy and at the top of his game
Oscar Robertson
Elgin Baylor
Jerry West
Bird
Magic
Jordan

You might be able to convince me to add Tim Duncan and Bob Cousy.

I've got a host of players who would go in group right under those guys. But you can't convince me that one of those players is the greatest of all time over those other players.

Outside,

The basketball gods probably aren't happy with you for putting Bill Walton on that list.
If we are looking at NBA careers and not college careers, I can't see how Bill Walton would be a Hall of Fame player.
He played less then 6 full seasons and probably half of that was as a diminished player.
Only two times did he finish in the top 20 in MVP voting.
It is very easy to find reasons why Bill Walton should not be considered near the top of all-time great lists.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by Outside on Wed Feb 13, 2013 6:55 pm

TJ,

I adequately qualified his inclusion on my list. As I said, it was a brief time. But during that brief time, he played as well as anyone has ever played. He was the total package -- physically talented, fundamentally skilled, a complete game, unselfish, passionate about winning, and all about the team. Those Portland Trailblazers are one of my favorite teams of all time, for how complete they were, how unselfishly they played, how they all embraced their roles. They were a joy to watch, but once Walton started accumulating foot and ankle injuries in his third season, he was never the same, and neither was the team. Perhaps it was too short a time for him to make it on your list; it was not too short to make it on mine.

At some point later in his broadcasting career, Chick Hearn was asked a question -- who is the best center of all time, Russell, Wilt, or Kareem? Chick got a little twinkle in his eye and said, "I might say Bill Walton." I forget what he ended up saying, and if I remember correctly, he did make a choice, but I don't remember that as much as his first response, which was to put Bill Walton in the conversation. I wholeheartedly agree.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by RosalieTCeltics on Wed Feb 13, 2013 7:40 pm

He is, was, and always will be the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. What he brought mentally to the game was so far above any other player that it put him far and above anyone else. They can score all they want, it doesn't matter. Russell revolutionized the game. It is a privilege to say I saw him when!!

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by worcester on Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:40 pm

We Celtics fans all loved Bill Russell, but we were terrified of the big O. What an amazing player he was. So unappreciated nowadays. We ooh and ah over Rondo's triple doubles and LeBron's talents, but Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double for an entire season. Having said that, as great a Cincinnati Royal as Oscar was, the greatest Royal was Jack Twyman, for reasons far more important than what took place on the court. When his teammate Maurice Stokes fell ill, Jack took car of him --- for the rest of his life!

http://aol.sportingnews.com/nba/story/2012-06-01/jack-twyman-maurice-stokes-foundation-tim-duncan-karl-malone-cincinnati-royals

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by sam on Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:52 pm

Worcester, I've admired a number of Celtics' opponents over the years: West, Baylor, Reed, Unseld, Pippen, Worthy, Odom and others. And there's no question that Oscar had one of the greatest statistical careers ever. But I found him too methodical and dispassionate, with not nearly enough killer instinct. It was sort of like he did his job and went home; then did it again the following day.

I know Sam realized he'd be facing a load in Oscar, but Sam's response was to make certain that Oscar would be facing at least as much a load in Sam. That's the kind of feisty attitude I found lacking in Oscar. A great player, with great stats, but that's it.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by worcester on Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:56 pm

Well he was certainly glad to team up with Lew Alcindor in Milwaukee.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by worcester on Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:05 pm

Just how good was Robertson? "He is so great-he scares me," Celtics Coach Red Auerbach once said. Former teammate Jerry Lucas told the Indianapolis Star: "He obviously was unbelievable, way ahead of his time. There is no more complete player than Oscar."

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by bobc33 on Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:10 pm

worcester wrote:We Celtics fans all loved Bill Russell, but we were terrified of the big O. What an amazing player he was. So unappreciated nowadays. We ooh and ah over Rondo's triple doubles and LeBron's talents, but Oscar Robertson averaged a triple double for an entire season. Having said that, as great a Cincinnati Royal as Oscar was, the greatest Royal was Jack Twyman, for reasons far more important than what took place on the court. When his teammate Maurice Stokes fell ill, Jack took car of him --- for the rest of his life!

http://aol.sportingnews.com/nba/story/2012-06-01/jack-twyman-maurice-stokes-foundation-tim-duncan-karl-malone-cincinnati-royals

W, thanks for posting this, certainly does give one perspective.

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Re: Bill Russell, Kevin Garnett and Selfless Play

Post by worcester on Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:13 pm

KG has many of the same qualities as Jack Twyman. He really cares about his teammates as people, especially when they're down.

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