Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about whether Lebron James is Better than Kobe Bryant, or if Jame’s game has matured to the point where; he’s now better than Micheal Jordan was at 28. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that won’t admit that Lebron is currently the best in the game, as Kobe begins to fade with age. However great Lebron may be, many feel that its a sin to say anyone is better than Jordan. MJ has long been declared the best player ever without question, but its not true. Jordan was one of the greatest, no doubt, but I am not a member of the group that ranks him #1. I think, you’ve got to go a little farther back into the history of the game to find the best ever. My choice to wear that crown would be Bill Russell not Jordan.
If it’s the number of championships rings solely that makes you the best, Russell won a total of eleven championship rings during his thirteen year career. Two of those eleven rings Russell earned while coaching and playing at the same time. When the historic coach Red Auerbach retired in 1966, Russell became the Celtics head coach, making him the first African-American coach in the NBA and first to win a championship. He was also a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a twelve-time All-Star. Russell was the cornerstone of the Celtic’s dynasty, which hadn’t won any championships prior to his arrival in Boston. Before his professional career, Russell also led the University of San Francisco to two consecutive NCAA championships (1955, 1956). He also won a gold medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics as captain of the U.S. national basketball team. Bill Russell was undersized for the center position at 6 ft 9, yet many still consider him to be the NBA’s first superstar. Russell’s style of play, which relied on relentless hustle, rebounding and shot blocking, revolutionized the game at that time. He and Wilt Chamberlain brought the above the rim style from the blacktop to the hardwood.
Russell’s true greatness has much more to do with just putting a ball through a hoop. His off the court presence as a voice for change and fighter for human rights, makes him a giant. Bill Russell played in the era of the Civil Right Movement. He suffered the frequent indignities that came with living and playing in a racial divided America, where he never laid down his dignity. He, along with some of the other biggest names in sports at that time, were outspoken advocates for African American’s equal rights and participation in society. Russell showed that the advancement of the group is more important than simple personal gain. That’s Where Jordan is locked into one dimension, and his limitations as nothing more than a ball player become glaringly obvious.
Micheal “AIR” Jordan did take the game to another level. He brought the above the rim style to perfection, and he revolutionized the game as it relates to athletes endorsing products. Athletes had never known the millions and now billions of dollars that could be earned off the court before MJ. The money flowed in during Jordan’s time as the face of the NBA, but at what cost? Jordan has never expressed his opinion or stance on any issue, and there were certainly many he could have championed during the eighties and nineties. Jordan’s main off the court interests however centered around selling shoes, playing golf and gambling. He seemingly avoided taking a position on anything throughout his whole career, for the sake of not hurting his brand.
Social awareness, activism and leadership are qualities no longer exercised by most. Today’s African-American athletes seem to have no limit to the heights they can achieve on or off their fields of play. Those possibilities, which many clearly take for granted, were secured by people who fought for them however. Based on the Jordan model, today’s athletes only concern themselves with making money. Staying silent, while holding up the product, makes them appear to be uninformed or uninterested in the issues of the day. These multi-millionaires dare not make any statement, right or wrong, that may hurt sales. The term coined to define individuals that behave that way is sell-out.
Current NBA superstars like Lebron James, Kobe Bryant and others have adopted the Jordan route, and stay mute when it comes to the social issues of today. Standing for something involves risk, and the chance that someone may disagree with you and critique you negatively, is part of it. Sadly, The banner they do choose to pick up and represent, is for the welfare of Phil Knight’s Nike empire. If it’s just about playing with balls and making money, Jordan rules. That’s not what its all its about though. The Russell model proves that a professional athlete can excel at their craft, and at the same time, use their voice and influence to make the world we live in a better place. At the age of 79, Bill Russell remains a constant source of wisdom not only for NBA players, but humanity at large. In the times we live in now, where not too many people stand for anything anymore, men like Mr. Russell are sorely missed.