These days, no current NBA player is often compared to Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. After all, only a few basketball fans today are old enough to remember that Russell and Chamberlain were the NBA's first rivalry. Both centers were the face of the league in the 1960s and transcended the game to greater heights. So when these two centers talk about their eras, they always mention how physical and dominant big men were back in the day.
Russell doesn't take comparisons lightly.
In 1996, the name Dennis Rodman would come up when words like "dominance inside the paint" and "physicality" were mentioned. Rodman is, after all, one of the best rebounders the league has seen and was on top of his game with the Chicago Bulls that year -- he averaged 14.9 rebounds and 5.5 points per game in 1996. So at that time, Rodman's force in the paint drew comparisons to how Russell did it during his time.
But when Russell was asked in the same year how he felt about being compared to Rodman, the 11-time champion quickly dismissed the idea. In fact, the Boston Celtics legend implied that Rodman doesn't even deserve to be in the same conversation as him and Wilt Chamberlain.
"The inevitable question arose: What did Russell, the best rebounder in history, think of Dennis Rodman, the best modern-day rebounder? "Well, he's certainly an entertainer. Uh, Bill, how about as a rebounder? "He's adequate. . . . To compare him with Wilt and me is, well, in error," Russell stated, as reported by The Washington Post in 1996.
Does Rodman deserve to be in the same conversation as Russell?
Russell's words may seem pretty harsh, but they just proved how high his standards were for the next generation of centers. Russell also had a point when he easily dismissed being compared to Rodman because it doesn't do justice to how transcendent the former was during his era.
Remember, Russell averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists a game throughout his 13-year career in the NBA. Compared to Rodman's 7.3 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists a game in 14 years, that's a huge disparity.
Ultimately, Russell and Rodman were great in their own right, but there's a reason why the former is known as a transcendent icon who changed the game on and off the court. Before Shaquille O'Neal, Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Jokic came into the picture and stepped into the NBA, it was Russell who dominated first.