Posted on: March 1, 2012 7:57 pm
The 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game is not only an occasion to remember the accomplishment, but also the man.
What better way to reflect on Chamberlain’s signature moment than through the eyes of his friend and most bitter rival?
So I called Bill Russell, the 11-time champion of the Celtics, and asked if he’d be so kind as to share his thoughts about the occasion 50 years ago Friday. I’ll provide his response, followed by the context.
The response from Russell: “Not really.”
“Is it a bad time, or is it a topic you don’t really want to talk about?”
“A little of both,” he said.
And that was that. I apologized for the intrusion and wished Russell the best.
“No intrusion,” Russell said. “And thank you.”
I shared the conversation with Sy Goldberg, Chamberlain’s longtime friend and attorney. On the phone from Los Angeles, Goldberg was neither surprised nor particularly offended by Russell’s reaction.
“There was a love-hate relationship between these two guys,” Goldberg said.
Let it be noted that Russell, who turned 78 last month, harbors no grudges or animosity toward Chamberlain – nothing different than they ever did, anyway. Goldberg said in the old days, the NBA used to schedule the Sixers and Celtics on Thanksgiving Day, and when the game was in Philadelphia, Russell was a guest at casa de Chamberlain for Thanksgiving dinner.
“Russell was there all the time,” Goldberg said. “They were close friends.”
But Chamberlain never forgave Russell for questioning his toughness after Lakers coach Jan van Breda Kolff refused to put an injured Chamberlain back into Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals against the Celtics. Chamberlain had asked out with six minutes left and asked back in with three minutes left, but van Breda Kolff declined. The Celtics won, 108-106, for their second straight championship and last of the Russell era.
“That day, Russell said something like, ‘I don’t care how bad he was, I would never have come out of the game,’” Goldberg said. “Wilt never forgave him for that.”
But with Russell and Chamberlain, the hard feelings weren’t permanent. On the day Chamberlain died of heart failure, Oct. 12, 1999, Goldberg got a call from a frantic Russell, who didn’t want to believe the news.
“I had been called by the gardener, and the police were there, and it was real pandemonium,” Goldberg said. “And I got a call from Bill Russell. His quote was: ‘I wouldn’t believe any news at all unless you tell me it’s true.’ And he sounded like he was devastated.”
In the old days, Chamberlain got all the attention and Russell got most of the championships. So on the eve of Wilt’s 100-point anniversary, the old Celtic stays quiet.
Maybe that’s for the best. Maybe that’s how Wilt would’ve wanted it.
Posted on: November 10, 2011 3:19 pm
Edited on: November 10, 2011 4:05 pm
NEW YORK – Hall of Famer Bill Russell said a solution to the NBA lockout is being jeopardized by hard-liners on both sides, and urged the parties to put aside their differences and reach a compromise “they can live with.”
“As a very interested bystander, I just hope they get a deal,” Russell told CBSSports.com in a phone interview. “And it will not come from the hard-liners on either side. I think they all know that. I have this theory that hard-liners are like true believers. And true believers think that any compromise is a retreat. And moving forward, that doesn’t cut it.”
Russell’s words carry weight – and not just because he is the most decorated champion in NBA history. The former Celtics’ star was among a group of 20 All-Stars who threatened to boycott the 1964 All-Star Game in Boston unless the NBA recognized the newly formed players’ union.
“Basically I was one of those guys that helped get the players’ association started,” Russell said. “And they've done wonderful things. I knew David Stern before he was commissioner, when he was associate attorney for the NBA. And if I remember correctly, he said, ‘I do not consider the players' association my adversaries. They're my business partners.’
“That's where, a lot of the things that David has done -- and I’ve known him up close -- have been beneficial for both sides,” Russell said.
Russell, 77, winner of 11 NBA titles, wanted to speak with CBSSports.com after he learned of union attorney Jeffrey Kessler’s comments in which he referred to NBA players being treated like “plantation workers.” Kessler, who made the comments to the Washington Post Monday night, apologized to several outlets Wednesday.
“I think that's an invalid accusation,” Russell said. “I think the whole deal is not about black and white. It's about money, OK? I don’t see any signs of being greedy. It's a typical negotiation and that's all it is. And there are a couple of reasons it's difficult, because there's hard-liners on both sides.
“But to me, the name-calling or vilifying the other side is a non-issue,” Russell said. “All that is is a distraction -- a distraction from the task at hand, which is reaching an agreement that neither side will probably be completely happy with. But that's the art of compromise.”
Russell said both sides “have their points,” but he views the key stumbling blocks as owners as trying to “protect themselves from the owners” and a battle between “the small-market teams and the big-market teams.”
“The players want their fair share of the business and the small-market owners don't want to keep losing money,” Russell said.
Russell said he hasn’t kept up with the details of the negotiation, but cautioned both sides that there’s “more to the agreement than just money.”
“I told Billy Hunter a few years ago: Bargain as hard as you can and make a deal,’” Russell said. “I really like and respect David Stern, and I really like and respect Billy Hunter and Derek Fisher. My whole life I've had a love affair with the NBA, and we've had some tough negotiations over the years. But I don’t think we ever vilified the other side. We just had tough negotiations.”
I thanked Russell for his input, wished him well, and told him I hoped to see him soon – at a basketball game.
“I'd like to see a basketball game right now,” he said.
Posted on: August 24, 2011 10:53 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 12:56 pm
While the National Basketball Players Association continued a whirlwind tour of regional meetings in New York on Wednesday, there was little indication any of those meetings could bring them face-to-face with their employers anytime soon.
After union officials briefed about 10 players on the dismal state of collective bargaining talks at the NBPA headquarters in Harlem, union vice president Mo Evans said there were no immediate plans for a full bargaining session until perhaps after Labor Day.
UPDATE: There will, however, be a secretive meeting of only the highest-level negotiators for both sides next week, a person familiar with the meeting told CBSSports.com on Thursday. The session is expected to include only commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver, union chief Billy Hunter and president Derek Fisher. Also present could be Spurs owner Peter Holt, the chairman of the owners' labor relations committee. But no other players or owners are expected to be included, which could create an environment conducive to productive negotiation.
"We're looking forward to the owners re-engaging us after a couple of weeks of vacation," Evans told CBSSports.com by phone after landing in Chicago, where the NBPA will hold another regional meeting Thursday. "We're ready to negotiate. We're ready and we're available."
Each side, however, is endeavoring to prove otherwise before the National Labor Relations Board. Earlier this month, the NBA filed its own charge accusing the players of failing to bargain in good faith after the union accused the owners of the same back in May. There has been only one bargaining session involving all the key players from both sides since the owners imposed the lockout July 1.
"Even in that meeting we had, they didn't engage," Evans said. "In the proposals we've given them, the players have compromised over $650 million into the owners' pockets over six years. You say you're losing money, and we've offered over $100 million a year to take out of our pockets and they say, 'That's all? That's all? Just a modest $100 million a year?' That's just not bargaining in good faith. It's hard to get anything done that way."
The players have been flustered by Stern's public characterization of the owners' position in recent media appearances, and Evans said the purpose of the regional meetings is to "inform the players" of how Stern has been untruthful and "very inaccurate" in his portrayal of what the owners have proposed.
The NBA contends that the players' $100 million-a-year concession would result in the average player salary rising from its current level of about $5 million to $7 million by the end of the NBPA's six-year proposal and says the players actually are proposing slowing the growth of salaries by $100 million a year. With every dollar sign and zero, the fans' eyes glaze over.
"We're not so much frustrated," Evans said. "We're just not being impatient. Nothing's lost, nothing's jeopardized as of now. But we are eager to get this back on track. We're coming off a lot of record highs in terms of ratings and BRI, and the game is in such a good place. The NFL gets a 10-year deal, and I've been to some NFL (preseason) games and the fans are so excited. We owe that to our fans as well."
In meeting with players throughout the country -- more than 70 in Los Angeles and about 35 in Las Vegas last week -- Evans has heard a gathering insistence among NBPA members that they are willing to lose the entire season if that's what it takes to get a "fair deal," he said.
"The guys are willing to suck it up as long as we have to in order to stand up for what's right and protect what all the great players who've come before us have fought for," Evans said. "The Bill Russells, Michael Jordans, Larry Birds and Magic Johnsons have done great things to allow us to make the salaries we have and wear these great uniforms. It'd be a shame to give up everything those guys have fought for."
Reality dictates that neither side will give up anything until forced to do so. The only forces bearing down on these labor talks that could result in a change of heart are the players' unfair labor practices charge against the owners, which could result in a federal injunction lifting the lockout if successful, and the calendar itself. Sources on both sides understand that once the calendar flips to October, the currently distant threat of games being canceled becomes harsh reality.
"In the more than two years I've been associated with this, we've been in entire sessions on ways to increase revenues and improve the game," Evans said. "We've suggested all kinds of awesome ways that will create even more competitive balance and increase profitability. But that's not what they're interested in. The only thing they're interested in is the players taking a cut and increasing the owners' profits."
Posted on: January 21, 2010 12:46 pm
With Kobe vs. LeBron Thursday night in Cleveland, it's the perfect time to come up with a list of the top five individual rivalries in NBA history.
Michael Jordan makes the list, but only barely; he never had an individual rival or anyone close to his equal.
Kobe and LeBron make it, even though they haven't (yet) competed head-to-head for a championship. But as (arguably) the two best individual performers in the game -- albeit at different stages of their careers -- this is as good as it gets in modern times. (And not because of the puppet commercials.)
So with the following rough criteria -- competing for championships, relative difference in skill level, and the competitiveness of their teams -- here are my top five individual rivalries in NBA history:
1) Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell: This is a no brainer. The two dominant players of their generation competed for the Eastern Conference title six times and the NBA title twice. Russell forever lords over Chamberlain in the debate over who (other than Jordan) was the best player ever, due to his 11 championships compared to Chamberlain's two.
2) Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson: Their rivalry began in college with the seminal NCAA title game between Indiana State and Michigan State in 1979, which made the NCAA Tournament what it is today. It continued throughout their NBA careers with the Celtics and Lakers lifting the NBA to national prominence with three NBA Finals matchups in the '80s. Lakers vs. Celtics is all you need to say to conjure memories than span generations.
3) Bird vs. Julius Erving: Before we had Bird vs. Magic on the NBA stage, we had Bird vs. Dr. J. Their teams met in the Eastern Conference Finals in four of the first six years of the '80s, splitting the four meetings to determine who would go on to face the Lakers in the Finals (with the exception of 1981, when the Celtics faced the Rockets). Who among us (in 35-and-up demographic) didn't get his first video game experience on that grainy but thrilling "One on One" video game featuring Bird and Dr. J?
4) Kobe vs. LeBron: I put them here because of A) What is, and B) What might still be. LeBron is just entering his prime, when presumably he will begin stockpiling championships. Unlike Jordan at a similar stage of his career, LeBron has a formidable, immortal rival in Bryant who is still standing in the way. Kobe continues to play at a high level and has a chance to keep LeBron's championship trophy case barren for a couple of more years. (And they have the puppet marketing machine going for them, too.)
5) Jordan vs. Isiah Thomas: As inhabitants of the same conference, Mike and Zeke never squared off with a championship on the line. But Jordan's epic battles against Isiah's Bad Boy Pistons -- taking his lumps in the '89 and '90 Eastern Conference Finals before finally breaking through in '91 -- marked the emergence of one of the all-time greats. By supplanting Isiah and the Pistons, Jordan dispensed with the last true individual rival he would face en route to six NBA titles in eight years. Their rivalry also transcended the court; it was personal. Isiah's alleged "freezeout" of Jordan in the 1985 All-Star Game, Jordan's alleged efforts to sabotage Thomas' failed bid to be included on the 1992 Dream Team, and the visceral hatred that exists to this day between Jordan's long-time agent, David Falk, and Thomas makes this a must in my top five.
Posted on: November 14, 2009 3:35 pm
I enjoy Stan Van Gundy's curmudgeonly nature. Sometimes, I poke fun at him. But I've never enjoyed anything he's ever said more than his stance on LeBron James' call for the NBA to retire Michael Jordan's No. 23.
"It's a nice gesture," Van Gundy said Friday, "but he is not Jackie Robinson."
Nor is he Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, or Oscar Robertson. No basketball league retires No. 23 until those other numbers are retired, too.
Retiring jersey numbers is a team decision, not a league decision. Funny, I thought it was a LeBron decision. I thought everything was up to LeBron. I wouldn't be surprised if LeBron wanted No. 23 retired because it's his number.
What made this even more comical was that LeBron said he'd be switching to No. 6 out of deference to Jordan -- but not out of deference to Russell, evidently.
LeBron's insistence on sucking up to Jordan is, to borrow a phrase from the King himself, getting old. He should go back to talking about how humbled he is that half the teams in the NBA want him to wear their jersey, regardless of the number on it.
And one more suggestion: If any numbers get retired, it should be those worn by the actual pioneers who broke the NBA's color barrier: Chuck Cooper (first black player drafted), Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton (first signed), and Earl Lloyd (first to play in a regular season game).
Posted on: February 15, 2009 10:11 pm
PHOENIX -- Bill Russell became a deserving focal point of All-Star weekend Saturday, when the NBA named the Finals MVP Award after him.
On Sunday, Russell's 75th birthday was recognized during the All-Star Game.
No, it doesn't.
Happy 75th birthday, Bill.
Posted on: February 14, 2009 9:16 pm
PHOENIX – The ultimate winner strode to the dais, beaming with pride. Bill Russell, winner of 11 NBA championships, called this “one of my proudest moments in basketball.”
From this day forward, the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award will be named for Bill Russell.
“I accept this for my team,” Russell said, his voice cracking with emotion. “And my team included our coach, Red Auerbach, and all my teammates over the years.”
It was a bittersweet moment, said Russell, who last month lost his beloved wife, Marylin, after a long bout with cancer. Commissioner David Stern had a chance to tell Marylin about the honor her husband would be receiving, and she carried the secret with her – perhaps only telling Auerbach up in heaven.
Incredibly, Russell never actually won a Finals MVP trophy. They didn’t start handing them out until 1969, when Russell’s Celtics beat the Lakers but Jerry West got the award – the only one given to a player on the losing team. So now you understand why, upon receiving the trophy from Stern Saturday night, William Felton Russell held it as tenderly as a newborn.
“I learned very early in my career,” Russell said, “that the only important statistic in basketball is the final score. I dedicated my career in basketball to making sure we were on the positive end.”
There were jokes and pleasantries, even a thorny bouquet for the writers, with whom the reclusive Russell has long clashed.
“I want to explain something to you,” Russell said. “This is only the second time I’ve been out in public since I got my hearing aids. When I found out I was gonna be around a lot of guys from the media, I put ‘em in a drawer back in the hotel room.”
Laughter filled the room, and Russell said, "My second year in the league, I was the most valuable player of the league by the players' votes. But I was second-team all-league by the writers' vote. That's why I didn't wear them. ... The reason I don’t wear them is not vanity. The reason I don’t wear them is that I like what I don’t hear.”
Russell turned 75 this week, and has emerged from seclusion to become an ambassador for the NBA and mentor to its young players at a time when the league really needs one. I say this not because the league is in bad shape, because it’s not. I say this because it has a tremendous opportunity to truly enter another “golden era of basketball,” as Stern always says.
The kids are gonna be all right, but they need some guidance. They need to remember where they came from, need someone to look up to. Russell can help.
When the laughter died down and the room went quiet, Russell’s famously hoarse voice went soft, the emotion of the moment tightening his throat.
“Very seriously,” Russell said, “what I’m going to do next week is visit my father’s grave. Because he was my hero and I’m going to share this with him.”