You can say what you want about all the NBA rivalries that range from Magic Johnson and Larry Bird to Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas, but none of them compared to the rivalry of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Magic and Bird met three times in the NBA Finals, but they didn’t have to guard each other because they played different positions. On the other hand, Russell and Chamberlain met eight times in the finals — where Russell and the Celtics beat Chamberlain, who was playing for the Warriors, 76ers, and Lakers, 7/8 times. Whenever the two met in the regular season, Russell won 57 times and Wilt’s team won 37 times. In the playoffs, Bill Russell’s record was 29-20 against Wilt Chamberlain. Whenever a seven-game series was played between the two in the finals, Russell came out on top four times.
The reason why Chamberlain tended to lose is because of his individualistic mentality — where he, himself, tried to carry his teams, which was truly the most-obvious difference between his and Russell’s playing-styles. Even though this mentality might have deprived him of a few championships, it certainly didn’t hurt his stats.
Stats wise, Wilt Chamberlain could be considered to be the most dominant player of all time. In his hall of fame career, he averaged 30.1 points, 22.9 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. It’s a rarity that we see an NBA player get 20 rebounds in a game now, but Wilt made it happen on a regular basis. And he certainly didn’t just limit himself to rebounding, on top of being a phenomenal rebounder, Wilt was also a dominant scorer. Perhaps the most-iconic part of Chamberlain’s career was when he scored 100 points in one game on March 2, 1962 — which was before the NBA was even considered a major sports league. The final score resulted in Chamberlain’s Philadelphia Warriors winning 163-147 over the New York Knicks.
On top of monopolizing the stat boards on the court, Wilt Chamberlain also earned plenty of accolades. In his 14-season career, he was a 13-time all-star, 11-time rebounding champion, 7-time scoring champion, and 2-time NBA champion — in which he was the 1971-72 Finals MVP. He also was the rookie of the year in the 1959-1960 NBA season. Perhaps the most-impressive feat of all his awards is that he was the NBA MVP four times. Only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), Bill Russell (5), and Michael Jordan (5) have more MVPs. The only player that is tied with his MVP record is LeBron James, who currently also has four NBA MVPs.
Many rules were changed in the NBA because of Chamberlain. The lane was widened to keep big men like himself further away from the hoop. They also banned offensive goal tending because of him. Perhaps the most-iconic of all the changes that were made as a result of Chamberlain’s career was that dunking by jumping from the foul line, in place of a free-throw, was banned. Wilt, listed at 7’1″ with a 50″ vertical, could dunk from the free throw line if he got a running start and since there was no rule against him doing it, that is exactly what he did.
Wilt was pretty-much a one-man team through his bucket and rebound-filled career. His dominance was unmatched. He truly left his mark on the game — which will be forever changed.
Stay tuned for American Basketball Icons That Shaped The Game Part II…