Bill Russell was an extraordinary basketball player: competitive, skilful, extremely smart, and one of the first players to dominate games on defense. In his years as the center for Boston, he had a macho rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain, a player who dominated the game almost as much with his huge bulk, height and shooting ability. Russell is about to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. Russell has earned this reward for his actions both on and off the court. I would like to tell you my favorite memory of Bill Russell in a basketball game.
Philadelphia was playing Boston, and after a change of ball control, four Philadelphia players zoomed downcourt on a fast break, with only Bill Russell ahead of them, backpedaling furiously to defend. The middle player was Chamberlain. Striding long strides, he could break very fast, and he was a fine passer. He and his three teammates passed back and forth to Wilt, and Russell’s chances to decide who would shoot in order to try to block the shot seemed hopeless.
As they reached the top of the key, Russell suddenly looked completely confused. At that moment, Chamberlain decided to take the shot himself. If he had passed off at that moment, any of his three mates would have made a shot just under the basket, undefended. But a confused Russell was a wonderful opportunity. Chamberlain took his step before shooting and crashed into Russell.
Just when Chamberlain had decided to shoot, Russell became unconfused and stood stock still. He had suckered Chamberlain, and all the Philadelphia team got for their four-on-one break was a charging foul on Wilt.