Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the greatest players in NBA history, winning six championships during his time with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. There is no doubt that many view him as the best center of all time, and his resume speaks for itself.
Like every other player, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had players that he looked up to. One of the people that he studied was Celtics legend Bill Russell. Recently, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar explained how Bill Russell inspired him to be a better player, noting that he studied Bill Russell "the way Oppenheimer studied Einstein".
It would be awhile before we met again, but I continued to study Bill Russell the way Oppenheimer studied Einstein. I even had a 1956 photo of Bill soaring high into the air during an NCAA high jump while attending the University of San Francisco. The image of Bill with his hands splayed out in front of him as if he were flying made me think that, with hard work, I could also reach those heights. What that must feel like, I wondered, determined to find out. In the photo, Bill has only one shoe on, the other foot covered in a loose sock. To me, that showed his commitment and focus—nothing could shake his will power to win. I realized then how much work I had to do to compete with athletes like him.
For more of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's thoughts on Bill Russell, click here to read his Substack
There is no doubt that Bill Russell is one of the greatest defensive players of all time, and it is clear that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar learned a lot from watching Russell. Some calculations suggested that Bill Russell averaged 8.1 BPG based on data that is available, which would make him one of the best rim protectors ever, if not the best.
Bill Russell's impact on the game will never be forgotten. He was a pioneer of the sport and the leader of the winningest dynasty in NBA history. Many people rank Bill Russell very highly on their best players of all time lists, and he certainly deserves his respect.