Didn't Russell win all of those titles because he played on great teams?


Many try to dismiss Bill Russell's 11 championships by saying he played on great teams.  They say he played in the era without free agency, so repeating was much easier, and they point out that he played for the indisputable greatest coach of the first 50 years and played with numerous hall of fame teammates.

Much of this is true, but I will point out why it is irrelevant to this argument.

Was repeating easier in Russell's era?

First, I will not agree that it was easier to repeat in the era before free agency.  After Bill Russell retired, the NBA did not see a repeat champion for 19 years.  Why?  Because repeating was HARDER during those days.  As free agency became more commonplace and less restricted (no compensation), it became easier for teams to repeat.  After 1986, look at what happened:

From 1987-2002 (16 years), only one champion failed to win consecutive titles, and that was the so-called "asterisks season" of 1999.

Now, explain how it was easier to repeat in Russell's era.   His run of titles was interrupted twice by the 1958 St. Louis Hawks and the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers.  Neither team repeated.  Both were defeated the following year by Russell's Celtics.  As a matter of fact, in the 13 seasons (1970-82) following Russell's retirement, only TWO defending champions got back to the NBA finals to defend their title: the 1973 Lakers and the 1979 Washington Bullets.  Both teams obviously failed, but considering how few could even get back to the finals shows just how much harder it was to repeat.  

Russell played for Red Auerbach, one of the greatest coaches in history.

This is true.  However, Russell played his final three seasons without Auerbach on the bench.  Russell coached himself during this period as player-coach of the Boston Celtics.  In his career, he proved to be a better player than coach.  He had a couple of other coaching gigs (in Seattle and Sacramento), where he won 46% of the games.  However, in the 3 years in Boston, his teams never had the best record in their division, yet won 2 championships.

Meanwhile, before Russell, Auerbach never made the finals, let alone won a title.  Russell had a way of making geniuses and hall of famers out of numerous players and coaches who played with him.  His college coach, Phil Woolpert, is also in the hall of fame.  He won 2 NCAA titles -- both with Russell.

Russell played with great teammates.

This is true.  Any dynasty had multiple great players.  Bob Cousy is one of the all-time great guards.  However, Russell won 5 championships without him.  John Havlicek is also one of the 15 all-time greatest players in history.  Russell won 5 championships without him.  He won multiple championships without every one of his teammates (except Sam Jones, whom he won 1 without, but Jones was a backup for his first 4 seasons).

Also, the 1955 Celtics had Cousy, Bill Sharman, Frank Ramsey, and "Easy" Ed McCauley (at center).  That is FOUR hall of famers.  They were coached by Red Auerbach.  They were 36-36 and finished in 3rd place in the division.  The next season, they went 39-33.  The season after that, Russell joined (and only played 48 games due to the Olympics), and they went 44-28 and won the championship. 

Look at his first title team (1957) and look at his last title team (1969).  Who was the only constant?  Bill Russell at center.

After the last title, Russell and Sam Jones retired.  The Celtics drafted Jo Jo White to replace Jones.  The dropped 3 ppg at that position.  White is in the hall of fame.  Hank Finkel replaced Russell.  The Celtics missed the playoffs.

'Nuff said.


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