A unique rivalry, yes Bird vs. Magic matchup was definitely a unique one. But for intensity, how about the Wilt Chamberlain versus Bill Russell matchup in the 70s?
You don’t recall that one, well just let us tell you about it. But before we get to that one it should be noted that there is video of the Magic vs. Bird showdown and its coming on a cable station near you, Saturday night on HBO.
Now let’s get to the intriguing matchup of the Century. The major difference between the more recent one between showtime and lunch pail time, is that they never really checked each other that often. See, Magic was a big point guard following in the model of Oscar Robertson. And Bird was your typical small forward who could shoot the ball really well. Rarely was scoring on Magic’s mind most of the time in a basketball game, he was more interested in getting the ball down in the post to Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
Bill Russell is about 6 ft. 11 inches tall and Wilt Chamberlain was all of 7 ft. 1 inches tall. But the few inches difference didn’t matter too much because it wasn’t about your standing height, it was about how you used your body to shoot and rebound and block shots. Russell probably did more with his game than anyone, his main thing was to defend and win, block shots and win, set picks and win, and win and win some more. On that front, Russell’s team the Boston Celtics won 11 championships in his 13 playing seasons. He won two as a player/coach for the Celtics.
Most of career they faced each other
But it was the match up between Russell and Chamberlain that took center stage in this contest. Since they always played each other when the two teams met.
Keep in mind that Wilt was winning the scoring and rebounding titles just about every year, but the Celtics were winning championships. Wilt Chamberlain is the only player to score 100 points in a game.
Russell won 11 rings encourages Bird
Chamberlain scored: In his 100 point game he scored 28-32 free throws.
78 points in a game x 1:
73 “ 3:
72 “ 1:
71 “ 2:
70 “ 1:
68 “ 1:
67 “ 4:
66 “ 1:
65 “ 3:
63 “ 2:
62 “ 6:
61 “ 3:
60 “ 3:
The most dominant big man of all time
Rebounding numbers are tops, but Russell is near his numbers:
Chamberlain averaged between 27.1—21.1 a game throughout his career.
In 1960 Chamberlain had a 55 rebound game on November 24th.
Earlier that year Russell had a 51 rebound game February 5th, 1960.
Chamberlain led the league in field goal percentage in 72′ at 72%.
1972–73 Wilt Chamberlain, of the Los Angeles Lakers shot at the rate of: 426 shot made of, 586 0.727.
Even far beyond his playing days, Chamberlain was a very fit person. In his mid-forties, he was able to humble rookie Magic Johnson in practice, and even in the 1980s, he flirted with making a comeback in the NBA. In the 1980–81 NBA season, coach Larry Brown recalled that the 45-year-old Chamberlain had received an offer by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
When Chamberlain was 50, the New Jersey Nets had the same idea, and Chamberlain declined again. Chamberlain however participated in several marathons instead. He would stay an epitome of physical fitness for years to come, until his health rapidly worsened in 1999. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilt_Chamberlain)
“During his career, Russell was one of the first big earners in NBA basketball. His rookie contract was worth $24,000, only fractionally smaller than the $25,000 of top earner Bob Cousy. In contrast to other Celtics, who had to work in the off season to maintain their standard of living (Heinsohn sold insurance, Gene Guarilia was a professional guitar player, Cousy ran a basketball camp, and Auerbach invested in plastics and a Chinese restaurant), Russell never had to work part-time. When Wilt Chamberlain became the first NBA player to earn $100,000 in salary in 1965, Russell went to Auerbach and demanded a $100,001 salary, which he promptly received.”
So in this situation, how do you decide who the most valuable is, is it the one who scores the most, the most often, who gets his team mates involved, or who wins the most championships. If money is your deciding factor then Russell won that by $1.
We’re not suggesting that the Bird vs. Magic show on HBO should not be watched, by all means enjoy yourself, but when you hear that greatest rivalry hype keep in mind that there has been those who have been there and done that before.
My personal all time best players are Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson, more about them in coming attractions.