Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain were rivals on the court and great friends off it. That comes as a surprise, not because of the on-court rivalry, but because of how different their characters were off the court. Boston Celtics legend Tom Sanders and Bill Rusell’s daughter Karen explained the difference between the two big men.
Bill Russell didn’t sign autographs
Bill Russel wasn’t your typical NBA superstar, as teammate Tom Sanders found out. He knew Russell did not like signing autographs, but he still tried, being teammates and all. Russ didn’t even flinch.
“I said, Russ I understand that you don’t sign autographs for other people but I would assume that you would sign this for me. He said ‘I don’t sign autographs.‘ So, first I thought he was joking and then he said the third and the fourth time then, I know he was serious.”Tom Sanders, All Basketball TV
You cannot fault Sanders for trying. After all, they were teammates and almost always together with the whole team. Fans have wondered why Russell refused autographs. He finally shed some light on it. Bill revealed that he preferred actual interactions with fans and not just taking photos with them.
“I don’t believe in autographs. Let’s have a cup of coffee instead. If a fan doesn’t want to have a chat with you, he was going to sell that autograph anyway.”Bill Russell
That seemed fair. Before social media happened, old-school players valued personal interactions more because it would show people actually care or want to know more about you instead of getting an autograph and selling it for a quick buck. Well, not all players. If Russell valued privacy, Chamberlain enjoyed the attention.
Wilt Chamberlain loved the spotlight
In 14 seasons, Wilt averaged 30.1 points and 22.9 rebounds. Those are monster numbers that are very unlikely ever to be replicated. Chamberlain was considered a generational athlete whose athleticism enabled him to dominate in other sports such as volleyball and football. He was confident and an egoist.
Fans were more enamored with The Dipper. He was more famous, cooler, and more accessible compared to Russell. Chamberlain also famously claimed he slept with 20,000 women in his lifetime, which was still unverified information up to this day. Wilt was very open about his life, and would often fight the narrative about himself in public. Bill Russell’s indifference towards other people was often seen as arrogance, but to his family, he just did not care.
“One of my father’s most unique qualities is that he really does not care what other people think about him and even if there’s misinformation he won’t go out of his way to correct the misinformation.”Karen Russell, All Basketball TV
If Bill and Wilt were compared to the current NBA stars, Russell would be Tim Duncan while Chamberlain would be LeBron James. Which one is better? I’ll let you decide. In the end, it’s a matter of personal taste. One guy earns his respect – the other one demands it.