Putting Jordan's "greatness" into context

A Jordan fanatic will usually hype up Jordan's career scoring average, 5 MVPs, 6 rings, 6 playoff MVPs, his defensive player of the year award his 9 first-team all-defensive team honors.

It sounds quite impressive.  Surely better than anybody else in history.  That is, until you put this into context.

  1. All-defensive teams:  Jordan's supporters frequently refer to the number of times that Jordan made the All-defensive team.  The All-defensive team wasn't created until 1969 - Bill Russell's final season, and yes, Russell did make it.   Walt Frazier made the first seven teams (1969-75).  It didn't exist during his first 2 seasons.  

  2. Playoff MVP:  This award also wasn't created until 1969.  When Bill Russell was the cornerstone of 11 championship teams, do you really doubt he wouldn't have won a whole lot of these?  (Remember, Russell has just as many regular season MVPs as Jordan).

  3. Steals and blocks:  These stats weren't officially recorded until the 1974 seasons - Oscar Robertson's final season and the season after Wilt Chamberlain retired.  Unofficial stats frequently had Walt Frazier making well over 5 steals, and in Wilt Chamberlain's first game, he unofficially had 17 blocks.  Hall of fame official Earl Strohm said that he estimated, Wilt and Bill Russell averaged about 8 blocks per game in the many games that he worked.

  4. Defensive Player of the Year.  This award wasn't issued until the 1983 season.  It's safe to say that Bill Russell would have won quite a few of these, and Wilt probably would have won in 1972 and 73.

I know it's speculation, but it's not unfounded speculation.  If you put these awards at the beginning of the NBA, I believe Bill Russell would stack up to Jordan accordingly:

Bill Russell Michael Jordan
Years played 13 15
Defensive Player of the year award 10 1
First team all-defense 10 9
Playoff MVPs 6 6
MVPs 5 5
Championships 11 6

The reason I say Russell would put up these numbers is as follows:

10 Defensive player of the year awards - Russell was the preeminent center in the league until Wilt Chamberlain came along, so the first 3 seasons are a given.  Wilt won the MVP in his rookie season.  For the next 3 seasons, Wilt put up the 3 highest scoring averages in history (38.4, 50.4, and 44.8 PPG), yet Russell won the MVP each season (averaging 16.9, 18.9, and 16.8 ppg).  Russell won his other two MVPs averaging 16.6 and 14.1 PPG).  Only Wes Unseld, the 1969 MVP, scored less in a MVP seasons than Russell in his 5 MVP seasons.  THAT is how good Russell was at defense.  I think it's safe to say that Wilt would have won defensive player of the year in 1967 and 1968.  Just to be conservative, I will give Wilt another defensive player of the year nod.

10 times on the first team all-defense - If he is the defensive player of the year, it's safe to assume he is first team all-defense.

6 Playoff MVPs - I am being EXTREMELY conservative on this.  Russell was a 5-time MVP whos numbers were BETTER in the playoffs than they were in the regular season.  He holds the Finals records for most rebounds in a 4-game series (118...2nd place is 76 by Wes Unseld), a 5-game series (144), and a 7-game series (1969).   To say that dominating player of an 11-time champion will only win the Playoff MVP  54% of the time is extremely generous.

5 Regular Season MVPs and 11 Championships - This is not speculation.  This is fact.

Looking at this criteria, it is easy to see that Russell is Jordan's superior.  If you think this speculation is incorrect, please e-mail me and tell me who would beat Russell.  If not, then you can see that Jordan is not the best player to ever play.