It seems like the number of championships won has become one of the most prevalent factors when debating about the greatest players to ever play the game. It's undoubtedly the biggest advantage Michael Jordan has over LeBron James. But if rings matter so much, why isn't Bill Russell the unanimous choice? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar certainly thinks that should be the case.
Effect on the game over individual quality
A few years ago, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show and spoke about some interesting topics. Dan was really curious how Kareem feels about his all-time ranking, the comparison with MJ, and the overall talk about who the best player ever is.
The legendary center gave him a methodical response in which he explained why Bill Russell is above MJ, LeBron, and even himself:
"I'm not the most successful. Bill Russell was the most successful. And he understood how to make his team win. Eleven world championships in thirteen years. Beat that, Michael Jordan. LeBron is not gonna come close. Come on...The effect you have on the game is how you should be judged. Bill Russell affected the game. You couldn't get a shot near the basket. He terrorized everybody for thirteen years!"
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, The Dan Patrick Show
Kareem, like always, was extremely humble in his approach, giving the nod to the great Bill Russell. After all, winning 11 championships is a feat any individual will have a hard time matching or even surpassing. But still, Russell doesn't often get mentioned in the GOAT debate.
It's probably because of the narrative and stereotype we attach to that era, because of the lack of teams and quality players all-around. But still, winning 11 out of 13 times in any league is no joke. Secondly, the sheer offensive numbers were not flashy -- he only averaged 15.1 ppg, 22.5 rpg, and 4.3 apg for his career -- with his impact being most felt on the defensive side of the floor.
The intimidation and leadership Bill brought to the Celtics was essential in all those championships, and that is not something you can simply see on the stat sheet. Kareem grew up watching Russell and saw how valuable he was on the court. That's why he holds him above the likes of MJ, LeBron, and him when it comes to affecting the game and winning among the best, despite a lot of fans disagreeing with that take.