Bill Russell: Legendary Performances
The NBA Finals are home to some of the greatest performances in sports history. Jerry West. Wilt Chamberlain. Magic Johnson. Larry Bird. Michael Jordan. These superstars provided fans with unforgettable moments and legendary performances. But no player was better on the biggest stage and in clutch situations than Bill Russell. Jerry West may be called ‘Mr. Clutch.’ Michael Jordan may have a highlight reel of game winning shots. Kobe Bryant may be the best closer in the NBA. But Bill Russell tops them all because no player came up bigger in clutch, championship moments than Bill Russell.
Bill Russell is the greatest winner in team sports. Period. His success is unmatched. He won back to back NCAA championships at the University of San Francisco, an Olympic gold medal, and 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics. He also received numerous individual honors throughout his career including 5 Most Valuable Player awards and was named an All-Star 12 times. But what separates Bill Russell even more is that in moments when everything was on the line, he stepped up better than anyone else.
Bill Russell won back to back championships in 1955 and 1956 while at the University of San Francisco. In the two championship games he put up outstanding numbers. Against La Salle in the 1955 championship game, Russell scored 23 points and pulled down 25 rebounds. The next year, in the final game against Iowa, he scored 26 points and grabbed a NCAA championship game record 27 rebounds. His average for the two games was 24.5 points and 26 rebounds. And most importantly, his team won both of the championship games. Most players could only dream about one day having a game like these, but not for Bill Russell. For him it was a reality. And as amazing as these numbers are, his performance in the NBA was even better.
During the Celtics dynasty of the 1950s and 60s, Bill Russell and the Celtics played in a Game 7 ten times. The Celtics won every one of them. Five of those Game 7s were in the NBA Finals. There is never more pressure on an athlete than in a Game 7 of the Finals because there is no tomorrow. It’s all or nothing. It is during these moments when the truly great players step up and rise above the rest. Bill Russell did just that.
His statistics during these games were remarkable.
1957 NBA Finals: Game 7 vs. St. Louis Hawks ------- 19 points, 32 rebounds
1960 NBA Finals: Game 7 vs. St. Louis Hawks ------- 22 points, 35 rebounds
1962 NBA Finals: Game 7 vs. Los Angeles Lakers -- 30 points, 40 rebounds
1966 NBA Finals: Game 7 vs. Los Angeles Lakers -- 25 points, 32 rebounds
1969 NBA Finals: Game 7 vs. Los Angeles Lakers -- 6 points, 21 rebounds
His average in Game 7 of the NBA Finals is a staggering 20.4 points and 32 rebounds per game. No one else can come close to the performances he gave in these championship games. Other players have given great game 7 performances, most notably Walt Frazier in the 1970 NBA Finals (36 points, 19 assists) and Jerry West in the 1969 NBA Finals (42 points, 13 rebounds, 12 assists). Frazier’s New York Knicks won the championship in 1970, but unfortunately for Jerry West, his record performance was not enough to defeat Bill Russell and the mighty Celtics. But while these other players have produced some excellent Finals performances, no one did it as consistently or as often as Bill Russell. He was the unquestionable leader of the greatest sports dynasty of the 20th century and he elevated his game to another level when the championship was on the line.
Great players are supposed to rise to the occasion in championship games. They are supposed to thrive off of pressure and take their game to another level. These moments are what separate the good players from the great players, but it also can transform a great player into a legend. Bill Russell is not only the greatest winner in sports; he is truly a legend of basketball.
By: David Hyland
Pro Basketball Fans Staff Writer
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