Didn't Russell say that Michael Jordan is the best of all-time?


Nice picture, Michael.  If you had 5 more rings, you could pose like Bill. 


In 1997, Michael Jordan won his 5th Most Valuable Player award, tying him for 2nd place all-time with Russell (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has 6).  Russell presented him with the award and said Jordan was the best ever.

Does that actually make Jordan the best ever?  If Bill Russell said Bill Wennington was the greatest center of all-time, does it make it so?  No.  It is all his opinion.  I have to disagree with Russell.  Why?

Look at the criteria: Russell brought home the hardware.  Without him, the Celtics go from greatest dynasty in sports history to also-ran.  Jordan retired in 1993, and the following season, the Bulls slipped 2 games in the standings.  Because they failed to win the title, some said this proved Jordan's worth.  However, the following season, he came back and the Bulls did worse in the playoffs than they did without him the year before.  Court rust?  Hardly.  He missed 65 games in 1986 and came back to put up the memorable 63 point playoff game.  In 1995, he had his "double nickel" (55 point game) against the Knicks.

Jordan came back with Washington and put up consecutive losing seasons and lottery appearances.  A shadow of himself?  Why did he score over 50 on at least one occasion?  He simply did not elevate teams the way Russell did.

In his first 6 seasons, Jordan never got to the finals.  He was selfish to a fault.  Even when they won their first title, his teammates grew tired of his glory-seeking, selfish ways.  He said that he wanted to win, but he wanted to be the reason his teams won.  He was always selfish, putting himself ahead of the team.  This is exactly why he has 6 rings and Russell has 11.

Even in college, Russell excelled more.  Jordan went to tradition-rich North Carolina and was a quality role player his first season, supporting James Worthy (the Final Four MVP) on the way to the title.  The next two seasons, Jordan was the star, and could not get the team back to the Final Four.  Russell, on the other hand, won 55 games in a row in college and two national championships.  His teams were not as loaded as Jordan's.  Russell put the University of San Francisco on the map.  It is how he was: he was a winner everywhere he went.  Jordan was not.

Finally, here is what Russell really said:

"Winning is the only thing I really cared about because I fount that when I left the cocoon of my childhood I came into the world and young that individual awards were mostly political.  But winning and losing, there are no politics, only numbers.  It's the most democratic thing in the world.  You either win or lose.  So I decided early in my career that the only really important thing was to try and win every game because when I got through no one could say, 'Well, he was the best at this or that.'  The only thing that really mattered was who won.  And there is nothing subjective about that." -- From The NBA at 50.

That is why he was adamant that he was superior to Wilt Chamberlain, even though Chamberlain wrote the record books, posted the greatest statistics in NBA history, and won 2 championships and 4 MVPs of his own.  Why then, would he consider Jordan superior to himself?  Is it because he was more impressed with Jordan's (then) 4 championships more than his own 11?  Doubtful.  Did Russell have a change of heart on how he judged?  No.

Therefore, this statement about Jordan stinks of cheap promotion from the league office and NBC -- the very politics that he said went into individual awards.  The fact is, based on Russell's criteria for judging players, Jordan is inferior to himself.  Based on the fact that Russell won as many college championships and as many pro championships as Jordan and Magic Johnson combined, I cannot accept an inferior player as Russell's superior.  Magic defined winning for the 80s.  Jordan defined winning for the 90s.  Russell defined winning for all-time.

If self-seeking, ballhogging, stat boys, with a few titles are your thing, then guys like Jordan and Kobe Bryant are your guys.  If you want your team to win the title year after year after year -- and who doesn't -- then Russell is your guy.


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