Yesterday, the Orlando Sentinel’s Mike Bianchi wrote an article discussing Orlando Magic commentator Matt Guokas’ opinion that Dwight Howard is better than Bill Russell. Today, I’m here to tell you the obvious:
Guokas is right. Bill Russell couldn’t hold a candle to Dwight Howard.
What, Celtics fans? Is that gasping I hear? Puking, perhaps? Are you ready to never read this website again? Just hear me out before you permanently delete Celtics Town from your bookmarks.
Listen, I know Bill Russell won five MVP trophies, second only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (six) for most all-time. That’s very impressive, especially when you consider that Russell only played for 13 seasons. But did he ever win a dunk contest? Because Dwight Howard has. Granted, the dunk contest wasn’t even invented until long after Russell played and, even if it had been, he was so focused on winning that he never would have entered it. But Dwight Howard won a dunk contest title, and Bill Russell never did. Chalk one up for Superman.
Celtics fans, I know your next point is going to be that Bill Russell won 11 NBA championships in his 13 seasons. The most championships ever, by a human being, in any team sport. That’s very nice, something he should be proud of. But he never had to face Kobe Bryant in the finals, did he? Because Dwight Howard did. Never mind that, in his final season, Bill Russell led an old and beat-up Celtics team past the Lakers trio of NBA All-Timers, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, in an epic seven-game series. Kobe didn’t play on that team, so chalk another one up for Dwight Howard. Since Russell didn’t have to play Kobe, his 11 rings don’t count.
Plus, both Howard and Russell have the same amount of Finals MVP Awards: zero. Didn’t you Celtics fans know that? Of course, Howard doesn’t have one because he has never won a championship and lost in his only finals appearance. Russell doesn’t have one because the award wasn’t given until 1969, which happened to be Russell’s last year. And, umm, David Stern actually named the award after Russell, apparently apologizing that the award was never given out while Russell was scooping championships like they were free samples. In the end, though, they both have the same amount of Finals MVP awards, so that one’s a push.
And Dwight Howard is far better on defense. This year will be the second year he’ll lead the league in blocks, after all! How many times did Russell lead the league in blocks? Zero. See, I told you Howard was a better defender. Of course, Russell played in an era when blocks weren’t counted as a statistic, so you can’t really tell how many times he would have led the league. Never mind that Russell is widely credited with changing the way defense in basketball has played, or that some people contend Russell would have averaged a triple-double if you did count his blocks. He never led the league in blocks. It’s that simple.
Hell, Russell only even made one All-Defensive team, the First Team in 1969. Of course, it was the only year in Russell’s career they actually had an All-Defensive Team and, even in the last year of his career, Russell was named to the First Team. Howard’s already been named to the All-Defensive Team twice, though! More than Russell ever did! He was even named Defensive Player of the Year last year. Russell was never given that honor. Ha! Told you Howard was better. Of course, they never gave that award out in Russell’s time, either. If they had, he might have won it a dozen or so times. But, as it is, Howard has won more Defensive Player of the Year Awards, All-Defensive Team honors, and shot-blocking titles. So, clearly, he’s a better defender. Even if Red Auerbach said of Bill Russell, “Russell single-handedly revolutionized this game simply because he made defense so important.”
Beyond Howard’s dominant defense, there’s the whole question of whether Russell ever could have competed in today’s game. How would he have fared against the monsters of 2010? I mean, centers today are so terrific that Al Horford was an All-Star. Russell never could have competed against a guy of Horford’s caliber, no way. Never mind that Russell was the greatest winner of all-time, in any sport, or that Bill Bradley once wrote, “If I could pick any player in history to start a franchise in the National Basketball Association, I would pick Bill Russell. He was the smartest player ever to play the game and the epitome of a team leader.” That kind of sounds like a player who could have adapted to the times, doesn’t it? But centers today are so big and athletic, when back then they were slow and plodding. Of course, the centers are so athletic today mostly because Russell’s success set the blueprint for mobile centers that every other team would later copy. In so many ways, Russell changed the game of basketball.
Actually, now that I think of it, Mr. Matt Guokas, you couldn’t have been more wrong if you had said Brian Scalabrine should have started this season’s All-Star game. Not only is Dwight Howard nowhere near being able to hold Bill Russell’s jock strap, but he never will be. He could win a championship every year from now until 2019, and still not have as many rings as Russell. He could block five shots a game, and never have the same impact on a game that Russell did. He could win 60 games a season for the next 12 years, and still never approach changing the game the way Bill Russell did.
In the end, Bill Russell’s greatness comes down to two things: He is the greatest winner ever and the person who led the basketball revolution from a bunch of small, scrawny white boys to big, athletic, muscle-bound Dwight Howards.
Dwight Howard isn’t better than Bill Russell, and he doesn’t even come within miles of sniffing Russell’s greatness. Actually, Howard is a product of everything Russell did for the game.
And, until Howard no longer has enough fingers for his rings, I’d appreciate it if we never again spoke their names in the same sentence.