Bill Russell is widely known as the biggest winner in NBA history, collecting an astonishing number of 11 rings during his illustrious playing career. Still, his coaching career was lackluster, as he didn’t have too much success, coaching his Boston Celtics, Seattle Supersonics, and eventually the Sacramento Kings in short stints.
In his last coaching job with the Kings, Russell drafted a North Carolina point guard named Kenny Smith, who is known much more for being one of the vital members on the Inside the NBA panel on TNT for quite some time now. “The Jet” built a good relationship with coach Russell in his rookie year, and that relationship stayed like that to this day.
Even though Russell wasn’t the greatest coach, Smith shared a story on Open Court a few years ago on how he had a unique style of communicating with his players and not holding back on keeping it real with everyone.
“One time, I asked him, ‘Why’ve I got to sit beside you?‘ and Bill said, ‘Because that guy’s a loser, that guy’s a loser, that guy’s a loser, and I don’t want you sitting with them.’ I sat next to him, on a bus ride or a plane ride, 4 hours a day. And if I went to sleep, he’d nudge me and go, ‘Sleep nights, young fella. Listen to what I’m saying.‘ And I listened to all those stories. It’s a great feeling to know I was part of that. Not being Satch Sanders or Tommy Heinsohn or any other great players who played with him, I feel like I’m one of those.”Kenny Smith, Open Court
This amazing and funny story shows just how rough and real that old school mentality was, showing the complete opposite of most of the coaches today that have that “buddy” relationship with their players. You can argue either style has its advantages, but you can’t say that old school mentality Russell had with his players has some charm and authority that demands respect.