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‘I Challenge Anyone Who is Talking About Their “Mt. Rushmore” Lists to Omit Bill Russell’ by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem and Bill RussellNOLA. We celebrated Bill Russell’s birthday yesterday (Feb. 12 1934, Monroe, LA.) at the NBA All-Star brunch along with the NBA elite, his family, friends and fans. Some of the players who played against him, like Rick Barry and Bob Petit, recalled what it was like to compete against him. I first saw him play in 1960 at Madison Square Garden and from then until I graduated from high school in 1965 I must have seen him play at least 20 times. Bill’s genius on the court was based on the way he had figured out how to dominate the game from the defensive end of the court. The Celtics were able to force their opponents to take low-percentage shots from the perimeter because Bill would not allow anyone to get into position to shoot a lay-up or short-range jump shot. On the other hand, the Celts worked their offense for high-percentage, medium- and short-range jumpers. This simple game plan was the foundation for the Celtic dynasty, which dominated the game for the entirety of Bill’s career. The Celtics were NBA champs in 11 of Bill’s 13 seasons.

It was something to see! Any and all shooters who tried to score in Bill’s domain—roughly the area 8 to 10 ft. from the hoop—were in for a frustrating evening. It’s a shame that statistics for blocked shots were not recorded when Bill played. But there is a place where you can see him playing in his prime on the internet. Go to “Bill Russell—Block Art” on YouTube ( It features great clips of Bill terrorizing anyone trying to shoot a lay-up or score in the paint against the Celtics. Also, some of the players who played against the Celtics in that era are interviewed and they give great insights about how Bill played the game.

People often forget that Bill competed for the University of San Francisco track and field team in the NCAA’s Division 1 as a high jumper. That type of agility and explosive leaping ability served him well for the whole of his career. Bill was able to use his success as an athlete as a political tool. His competence and discipline were attributes that inspired Black Americans at a time when Blacks were not seen as capable in those areas. His success helped to disprove some of the negative stereotypes about Blacks that were commonly thought to be true during the Jim Crow era. Some people mistakenly thought that Bill’s quiet, dignified demeanor was somehow a mask for militancy. But Bill just kept on winning.

By watching Bill and taking notes, I was able to use his tactics as a template for my defensive efforts. I would not have retired as the all-time leader in blocked shots if I had not had the opportunity to watch Bill play when I was in high school. You can get some insight into Bill’s rebounding skills by checking out the record books for his yearly averages in that category. I challenge anyone who is talking about their “Mt. Rushmore” lists to omit Bill after they check out the numbers.

As someone who learned so much from Bill both on and off the court I just want to say “Thanks” for the inspiration you gave as an athlete and, more importantly, thanks for setting such a great example as a human being. You are one of a kind, Bill.

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  1. Veronica Ross Parish on February 18, 2014 at 5:41 am

    I totally agree with you Kareem.

    • sam shepherd on February 21, 2014 at 8:59 pm

      the people or players who said that are crazy out of touch to who Bill Russell
      Wilt Chamberlain and karem abdul jabbar are hope they come up to speed and know the importance and the quality of these players

  2. Tom Stephenson on February 18, 2014 at 5:56 am

    Dear Kareem,

    Having seen you extensively in my life, watching so many late night Bruin games on KTLA (tip-off at 11pm) and then in the Forum Purple and Gold, you most certainly belong on the Mount along with Mr. Russell, Michael and the man who in many ways was the greatest athlete that basketball ever produced, the Big Dipper – he was the reason, I believe, that we have today’s NBA.

    Best always.

  3. John Kolosiej on February 18, 2014 at 6:10 am

    Johnny Mathis broke Bills collegiate records…

    • Michael Kline on March 5, 2014 at 1:40 am

      Which of Bill Russell’s records did Johnny Mathis break…”The 12th of Never,” or “Wonderful, Wonderful?”

  4. HameD on February 18, 2014 at 6:12 am

    MJ says look at the number of rings ;that’s y he chose Kobe over LeBron so in that sense #6 Mr Bill Russell is def the most greatest.

  5. Christopher Blake on February 18, 2014 at 6:25 am

    When a true legend speaks on behalf of another true legend, it would be wise to pay attention.

    If three of your top five of all time are not Mr Russell, Mr Chamberlain, and Mr Jabbar himself, they don’t know basketball.

    Thank you Mr Jabbar for speaking out for the true greats, whose greatness is being too quickly forgotten.

  6. JamesBraque on February 18, 2014 at 9:45 am

    Very well said, a excellent tribute from one living legend regarding another. Respectfully acknowledging the pioneering affect that one’s performance can have on the many that follow. The truth from a Giant who knows and respects the shoulders of the giant of whom he stood.

  7. Vince Duncan on February 18, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Hi Kareem.I would like you to know that you Arthur Ashe,Bill Russell. And a few others made it easier for me to be black and intelligent and male. Over the years I have enjoyed watching you play and also appreciate your historical efforts. Thanks Vince Duncan.

  8. J Jeff Adderley on February 18, 2014 at 11:26 am

    I think players of this era have no knowledge of the players from past meaning 50s 60s 70s they have no clue, some times i wonder if they ever care to know. To leave BILL RUSSELL off the Mount Rushmore shows the lack of knowledge by these players. So they need to do a little more researching before make their picks. These are my mount Rushmore (1)Bill Russell (2)Wilt Chamberlain(3)Julius Erving (4)Jerry West.

  9. 'I Challenge Anyone Who is Talking About Their ... on February 18, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    […] We celebrated Bill Russell's birthday yesterday (Feb. 12 1934, Monroe La.) at the NBA All Star brunch along with the NBA elite, his family, friends and fans. Some of the players who played against …  […]

  10. Ruben Brito on February 18, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    Thank you Kareem. As much as the media and others try to amplify Michael Jordan’s 6 championships, they cannot ignore Bill’s 11 championships! Bill was truly the best player ever. That does not diminish all that you have accomplished, Kareem. For as far as centers go, you and Bill are 1 and 2 with Bill Chamberlain a close third, and Shaq is my #4.

  11. Carlos Manderson, Jr. on February 18, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you Kareem for setting the record str8. I’m entering my 6th decade of life and having come fromBrooklyn as well, we all had much respect for Bill and Kareem.In those days, you built your team around the center/enforcer, Bill Russell was that and more. We hated to watch him pulverize the NYK’S team of that era..Bill went on to commentate on ABC, and was remarkable giving insight to the game. GOD BLESS YOU BILL RUSSELL, TKS 4THE MEMORIES… (MY#1 , ALL-TIME GR8PLAYER !

  12. Max axe hack on February 18, 2014 at 5:05 pm

    I have fun with, lead to I found what exactly I used to be searching for. You’ve got ended my own 4 morning long search for! The almighty Thanks a lot male. Employ a fantastic day. L8rs

  13. Jose Martinez on February 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    This is great! Never thought of Bill as one of the greatest players of all time. But you have to put him right up there. He would definentely have to be on my team of greatest players. Thanks for this writing kaj33

  14. Wade j Lewis on February 18, 2014 at 7:42 pm

    As always, Kareem’s grace and decorum shine through. What a marvelous tribute from one of the greats to one of the greats. Born in 1961, I never got to enjoy Russell’s antics, but I saw Lew aka Kareem deploy what he learned from Russell. My favorite NBA season was the Bucks championship with the Big O at the helm and in particular watching Kareem one play off game go end to end like a guard. But this is about Russell. Thanks Kareem for putting his legacy in perspective.

  15. Generally I do not read post on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very pressured me to take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, quite great article.

  16. Panero dela Cruz on March 5, 2014 at 10:17 am

    The reason is this simple: Lebron did not witness the greatness of Bill Russel because he was not even born when Russel played. The players he put in his Mount Rushmore were the ones he saw played on youtube (the recent ones and not the pioneers). Haven’t you noticed that there’s no one in his list is currently playing or he has played/competed with. Just respect the man for he is, Lebron just stated his opinion. You just have to state yours when asked.

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