Bill Russell was unparalleled on the basketball court, and relentless

He lived his life in a straightforward, relentless manner. He basically gave the racism he encountered to the back of his hand. Proud does not begin to describe the frank nature with which he lived his life. He was a role model and an inspiration. He was really a great American.

Oh, and he can play little basketball, too.

His resume is unparalleled in professional sports in North America. From 1955 until 1969, his teams competed for 16 championships. That includes two NCAAs in 1955 and 1956, the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, and 13 NBA Finals. His teams won 14 of those 16 with him as a focal point, and he would very likely have been 15 (sorry, St. Louis) had he not been injured in 1958.

Plus, his San Francisco team has a 55-game winning streak, and in 21 all-winner games—which includes every NCAA game, every Olympic medal game, every NBA 5 and Game 7 Climactic match— His squad was 21-0.

Discussions in which we try to compare players from different eras usually end up as screaming, unresolvable affairs, and I realize that it would be impossible to convince many modern fans that Bill Russell was flown to the 2022-23 NBA Basketball League, that he would thrive. .

But something must be said.

Bill Russell was an athlete far ahead of his time. “I can kick the net and jump and touch the top of the backboard,” he told me in the 1999 session. Note that he said “Kick, kick” the net, not touch. “I introduced the vertical game to basketball.”

This is the truth of the gospel. There were occasional passing shots before Bill Russell, but he alone made the blocking shot a formidable art form and weapon. And unlike the thousands of big men who followed him, he had a very specific goal with those blocks. Lots of people shoot in the tenth grade. The other team regains possession and scores a basket. So what did you prove?

Russell’s goal was to destroy the shot and keep it in play in order to fire a quick break. He had the physical knack for doing it – the late Tom Heinson referred to it as “popping” the ball – and he did it better than anyone in the game’s history. This is indisputable.

An extraordinary combination of jumping skills and lateral mobility would have made him the perfect pick-up and roll gun in the modern game. Keep in mind that at 6-9, he was also the fastest man on his team. It was not strange that it starts and ends the same breakfast.

Heinsohn and the great Bob Cousy for over 60 years maintained that Russell made the greatest defensive game they had ever seen. He was a Jack Coleman block from the Hawks in the epic 1957 Game 7 overtime double. Russell started practically halfway to Worcester in order to catch Coleman, a very decent athlete, to block the shot. Heinsohn said that if a freight train was hummed by him.

He was an obstacle for all the great players of his era, including Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Rick Barry, and everyone else. They all respected and respected him, and one enemy, the educator Tom Mishri, expressed his feelings in the 1970 poem To Bill Russell:

I never saw
Bearded eagle
But if there is
in some strange
corner of the world
And Hindus
faith is true,
you will come back
And beat your wings
violently
over my grave.

The problems of Russell who was living in Boston that day once the game was over are well documented. Suffice it to say, Boston would never be his favorite place. But don’t confuse that with his devotion to the Celtics as an organization. He loved Red Auerbach and he loved his teammates. It was once introduced by Hannah Storm on NBC as “Hall of Famer Bill Russell” and he corrected it. He said, “No, Hana, do it Boston Celtic Bill Russell”.

As for the NBA, the league has to borrow from baseball. No one will ever wear a 42 (Jackie Robinson) again. No professional basketball player should wear 6.

Boston is uniquely blessed with an unbroken streak of first ballot Hall of Fame. He started with Eddie Shore in 1925 and will continue with Patrice Bergeron, whenever he decides to hang them. If all these stars were lining up in a parade, the flag bearer would be Bill Russell.

Bill Russell lived to be 88 years old, and he spent 13 of them improving the city of Boston. Here’s the question: Did we deserve it?


Bob Ryan can be reached at robert.ryan@globe.com.