The ultimate winners in the game of basketball have to be Michael Jordan and Bill Russell. Both players had a significant number of individual and team achievements, and their influence in their respective eras shaped the world around them. That impact wasn't solely related to basketball but culture, and they established themselves as true icons. Russell and Jordan broke barriers that weren't thought to be possible and transcended into true NBA legends.
Apart from being great athletes, Jordan and Russell had tremendous basketball IQ, which enabled them to be two steps in front of everyone in almost any situation. Their competitive nature is also an essential aspect of their game, and casual trash talking is a big part of that. Bill Russell remembers when Michael Jordan told him that he would break his championship records while playing golf on a beautiful afternoon.
"I think he is a great player and I have the ultimate regard for him. One time we were in the middle of a golf course after they have just won a championship and he said they will go for my record. And I asked him which one? You know we won 11, but we won 8 straight. I told him I don't think he will live long enough to get either of those."
Russell played in a very different era from Jordan's one, which is a topic Jordan raised during their conversation. Like many others, Jordan thought it was easier to win in the '60s, and Russell gave a very valid argument against that belief.
"Think about it this way. When I was a rookie there were 80 jobs in professional basketball so a lot of good players didn't make it. I said if there were 12 teams you wouldn't win a championship. Because you did a great job penetrating and you dished out to Paxson and he hit the open shot which won the game. If there were 12 teams in the league, he wouldn't make that shot because he would be up in the stands. And that is not a knock on him but it's about the quality of the NBA."
It's hard to have these types of debates on who had a tougher time playing in the NBA since we all know it's impossible to compare eras. However, it's impressive how Russell dominated the league with the Celtics for over a decade. On the other hand, Jordan took the game on another level regarding its global popularity while having individual and team success. They are both true legends of the NBA, and there is no question they made their impact on the game we know today.