At the first annual NBA Awards Show, legendary Boston Celtic Bill Russell had a special moment and made us remember why he’s one of the all-time greats.

It was one of the highlights of the night, only being topped by the speeches of Monty Williams and Russell Westbrook. Bill Russell, who’s 83-years-old, went on stage to accept the NBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo. He took the award graciously. Russell then handed the trophy to Mutombo as Kareem gave him his cane back. It was necessary so he could deliver his speech. While looking at the five, he pointed to each of them individually and uttered one sentence that encapsulated the essence of Russell.

“I would kick your ass.”

The room erupted with laughter. First, it was hilarious. Second, it was true.

A lot of casual NBA fans don’t know much about Bill Russell and just how great he was. If we start ranking, Russell lands behind LeBron James and Michael Jordan on my list. However, Russell’s excluded from the debate more than he should be, and it’s because he played during the 1950s and ‘60s, decades where the talent level pales in comparison to what we see now. Don’t get it twisted — he would dominate no matter when he played.

The accolades that Russell boasts are highlighted by his 11 championships, 11 All-NBA selections and five MVPs. His impact on the game was nearly one-sided, but there’s a reason why Russell is still the greatest defender ever to play the game. Despite being retired since 1969, there has yet to be a player who suffocates opponents like he once did, and Russell spent all 13 of his seasons locking down the paint and protecting the rim.

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Unfortunately, statistics don’t do him justice. When talking about the greats, we bring up numbers and hardware because it’s a way for us to debate about players we haven’t seen a lot of. Our grandparents are the only ones who saw Russell play live, and, because of a lack of popularity, highlights are scarce. Additionally, the NBA didn’t record blocks or steals during his playing days, and the All-Defensive Team didn’t exist until 1969, Russell’s last year. Furthermore, the Defensive Player of the Year wasn’t a thing until 1983.

Even with all the shortcomings the league had, it’s safe to assume that Russell would’ve made the All-Defensive team each year he played. I conclude this because he made it as a player-coach in 1969. Russell would be at 13 for his career, giving him the second-most all-time behind Tim Duncan’s 15. Next, I also have no problem believing that Russell would win t least two DPOY’s. There just wasn’t a better defender. Realistically, I could see him winning it six, seven or eight times because the NBA’s early years were ridiculously hyperbolic. If he didn’t, we could chalk it up to voter fatigue. (It’s like Michael Jordan or LeBron James not winning the MVP each year even though they could.)

Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics (Cliff Welch / Icon Sportswire).

All of the players who pre-date the modern are cheated because of this. Now that we’re in the information age, numbers carry more weight than ever, and that also attributes to leaving Russell out of most conversations. Again, this is with the casual fan, not someone who thoroughly enjoys the NBA and its history.

Although the league didn’t have an official tally of certain stats, newspapers did. On a RealGM forum, user CavaliersFTW posted a chart that has shot blocking data from Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. And it’s ridiculous. It only shows their most incomprehensible performances, but, in 135 games, Russell averaged 8.1 blocks. Eight. Point. One. It wasn’t crazy to see him routinely crack double-digits, and there are at least three instances of him eclipsing 20. The math works out to at 1,093.5 blocked shots for his career. That’s one-third of what Hakeem Olajuwon has, but the 135 contests taken into account make up just 14 percent of Russell’s career.

Take this with a grain of salt, but it’s hard to see how they would tally blocks any differently than how we do now.

Russell was ahead of his time athletically and had a tremendous basketball IQ. It helped that he was going against shorter players, but the average height during Russell’s tenure was 6-5 and 6-6. It was 6-7 this year and has been ever since 1981. The masterful blending of brains and brawn is why Russell would be capable no matter what era he played in. When he would block a shot, he wasn’t doing it for the tally or the highlight — there was a method to his madness. Russell would rebuke attempts and keep them in play to jumpstart a fastbreak. That’s the skill that separates the good shot-blockers from the great. Moreover, he wasn’t wildly going after every attempt, and he closed each stifling possession with a defensive board. Objectively speaking, I don’t see anyone else being your defensive anchor. I just don’t.

That proficiency on defense is why the Celtics were so successful, and the fact that the league was smaller didn’t have as much of an impact as some would think. Yes, having eight, 10 or 12 teams in the league is far different from 30, but it meant that the talent was denser. Boston experienced this first-hand with Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones and Tommy Heinsohn, but their opponents were constructed very similarly. In 1957, the first Finals Russell played in, the Celtics beat a St. Louis Hawks team that had four Hall of Famers: Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, Ed Macauley and Slater Martin. The surplus of talent meant Russell could focus exclusively on defending, and that translated to 133.6 defensive win shares, a metric that estimates how many wins Russell contributed on that side of the ball.

The second closest? Tim Duncan at 106.34. (At the time of this writing, Dwight Howard is the leader among active players with 65.54.)

What transcends all the metrics is Russell’s attitude. He had a raving obsession with winning and had the psychology that Michael Jordan is well-known for. Russell wanted to beat his opponents, but not before pulling their heart out, throwing it on the floor and hitting it with the Larry O’Brien trophy.

“One thing you want to do with your opponents is make them think — make them know they can’t win.”

Contemporaries like Sam Jones and Chet Walker talked about the intimidation factor that Russell had. When mentioning great shot-blockers, that’s a necessary trait. Keeping opponents out of the paint makes their offense run much more inefficiently because the likelihood of them making shots from the perimeter is lower. Plus, few things are more deflating than getting your layup blocked three times in a row; after that happens, you’re going to rethink your attack almost without hesitation.

Russell’s mindset is what we would call “killer instinct,” except it’s different from someone like Jordan. Where he would make a go-ahead bucket, Russell would get a game-saving block or rebound — it’s the same thing, but on different sides of the court.

Individually, Russell was a hell of a player, but he was so taken over by winning that he’d do anything for it, and his unwavering confidence made him feel that the Celtics should’ve won every game that he was present. Some players look to do everything by himself, and this is true with Jordan or Kobe Bryant (among others). That hampered their careers to an extent, and we all know that Jordan didn’t start to win until he was ready to pick and choose his spots. He still had an all-around impact, but that unpredictability later in his career took him from good to great to unstoppable. Plus, deferring showed that Jordan trusted his guys and had confidence in them. Russell had that from the start.

He averaged 15.1 points for his career, which is decent but I won’t stray from the paltry 44 percent that Russell shot. For a center, that’s a terrible clip. However, the Celtics needed him offensively and found ways to work him into their action. Russell (and Wilt) was the original point-center if you want to call it that. Among players 6-10 and taller with 20,000 minutes played, Russell ranks second with 4.3 assists a night; Chamberlain is first at 4.4. If we cut the minutes down to zero, Blake Griffin is the only one to join. That’s absurd.

I don’t believe anyone doubts the greatness of Bill Russell, but I also don’t believe it’s talked about enough. Additionally, he was just as great off the court. For me, when having the GOAT debate, being a revolutionary is huge. Jordan was a small guy who dominated a big man’s game; Kareem was the most skilled big during his time; Magic Johnson came and saved the NBA for God’s sake; LeBron brought new meaning to the term “point-forward.”

What Russell did was far grander than the guys above. He was a black man in a predominantly white sport and managed to be better than 98 percent of the people he competed with. Russell was the first African-American superstar, and he became the first black coach to win a championship in the history of North American sports. On top of that, his Civil Rights activism is rivaled by only a handful of players in NBA history, and he went on to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Isaiah Thomas once said that “if all I’m remembered for is being a good basketball player, then I’ve done a bad job with the rest of my life.” This seems like something Russell would say because his mission has gone well beyond the sport, and that’s paramount because the NBA is arguably the most socially-conscious league on the planet. They’re constantly looking to give back and open new doors, and the actions of someone like Bill Russell, Kareem or Oscar Robertson have helped open the door for others to open doors.

The Lifetime Achievement Award is the perfect piece of hardware to give to Bill Russell. He’s done it all. Tremendous on-court success is measured by his championships, All-Star appearances and MVPs, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. His dominance on the NBA’s biggest stage sparked the Finals MVP to be named after him, and all the traits that translated to a remarkable career weren’t left on the court. Russell’s team-first attitude, unselfishness, intelligence and compassion have carried his legacy just as far as his shot-blocking and athleticism. He’s one of the greats, and he’d kick the ass of any center who tried to step toward him.

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