Now that we are at the “official” halfway point of the NBA season at All-Star weekend, there will be conversations on who is the greatest player of all time. Right now in this era, the argument of who is the best right now is LeBron James. Others say that New Orleans Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis is the next in line to take the throne while Stephen Curry is the new darling of the NBA with the most All-Star votes.

A comparison that I will always hate is the one between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. There is no comparison, so let’s all stop it. Jordan beats LeBron. Now and forever. You can’t compare a Bentley (Jordan) to a Benz (LeBron). Both are nice cars, but one is more valuable and more revered. But do I believe that Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever?

No.

Let me start this by saying Michael Jordan is the most influential basketball player ever. Period. He is known worldwide. It was Jordan who took the NBA global playing with the 1992 Olympic team in Barcelona also known as the “Dream Team”. People that don’t watch the NBA know him. He is one of a certain few former athletes that actually owns his own team in the Charlotte Hornets. Look down at people’s shoes. You will probably find one out of three with his “Jumpman” logo on them.

However, he is not revered by his peers as much as  “Mr. Celtic”, Bill Russell. For 13 years, he was the king of the “Green and White” as the Boston Celtics ruled the 1960’s.

Check out the accomplishments. Mr. Russell won eleven championships in 13 years which included  eight straight. That is record that stands not only for the NBA, but for all American sports period. That means he needs a necklace if he wants to wear ALL of his rings at once. Mr. Russell was a five-time MVP. Yeah, I know someone reading this is saying Jordan won six MVP’s. Sure, but Jordan did not play in the Wilt Chamberlain era. Wilt Chamberlain was the most dominant player of all time. Mr. Russell was a 12 time All-Star. He was the centerpiece of the greatest dynasty in NBA history ruling the 1960’s. Basketball purists will mention Bob Cousy, John Havlicek or Red Auerbach as the reasons for the dynasty. They are  all wrong. Championships are won on the defensive side of the ball and with an inside presence. If you don’t believe me, why don’t you ask the Miami Heat how they fared without it in the NBA Finals last year.

Mr. Russell made EVERYONE on his team better. He was the ultimate leader. That’s why as great a Wilt Chamberlain was, his teams never got over the hump because Russell knew the game of basketball probably better than anyone in NBA history. Why do you think when Red Auerbach retired, he appointed Mr. Russell his replacement.

That moment made history. Bill Russell became the first African American NBA Head Coach. If you think that was something, he was still playing at the time. He then went on to coach two title teams which was also a historical moment, being the first African-American to do so.

A lot of people today see players and think they are the greatest. I have never seen Mr. Russell play live. I’ve only read about him and watched highlights. What makes this man so great is his character. He made all of his teammates better and he continues to make players in this generation better with his wisdom and knowledge. Ask former AND current players about Russell and they will tell you that they are all humbled by his presence. LeBron James had to leave Cleveland and go to Miami and join Dwyane Wade to win championships. Think about it. How would it look if Russell left Boston to join Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West in Los Angeles to win rings? Michael Jordan had to learn a few years before he caught on to the leadership role. Mr. Russell realized early that team ball wins out every time, not just individual achievements. He won by clamping down opponents on defense and being the anchor of the Boston Celtics team concept. He is one of only two players (Wilt Chamberlain being the other) to grab 50 rebounds in a game.

It is widely believed that Michael Jordan could have won MVP every year of his career. Think about this, how many MVPs are on the NBA’s All-NBA’s second team? At that time, the NBA said that there were better all around centers in the league, but Russell was more valuable to his team.  Doesn’t make sense does it?

Neither does the racism Mr. Russell had to face during his NBA career. How many players today could walk into arena after arena and deal with the racist jeers Russell had to face?  He even had to deal with it in his hometown of Boston. After dealing with a ton of issues, which included exhaustion in 1969, Mr. Russell retired with a championship in hand and a ton of bitterness. After defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in seven games, Mr. Russell did not attend the victory celebration. Would you believe Boston fans and journalists blamed him when the Celtics did not make the playoffs next season?

If you have noticed throughout this piece I have referenced Bill Russell as “Mister” Russell. Why? Because everyone that comes in contact with this man does. He has commanded that much respect from his peers from all around the NBA. Before Kevin Garnett won his first championship, Mr. Russell was so impressed with how he played the game that he offered to give one of his championship rings to Garnett if he never won one. When Garnett finally won his first and only championship, Garnett hugged Mr. Russell and cried “I got my own! I got my own!”

Charles Barkley gets a lot of attention for speaking out on subjects, but Bill Russell was doing this decades before. Mr. Russell was active in the Black Power movement. Russell was there to support Muhammad Ali when he refused to enter the draft and got to the Vietnam War. Mr. Russell was considered at the time to be militant concerning the issue of racism. This went to levels that the FBI had a file on him.

During All-Star weekend which happens to fall during Black History Month, I challenge fans to not only discuss who is the best player ever, but also the best man. Let’s consider the man and not just the jump shot.

 

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