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The Battle Of Giants: Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain (Career Comparison)

The Battle Of Giants: Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain (Career Comparison)

Along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the two centers who each get the most consideration of being the greatest big man of all time are Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. The reason is their sustained greatness, longevity, and overall impact on the game of basketball over their careers.

Wilt Chamberlain might be the single greatest statistical phenom in NBA history, as he holds records for most points in a single game (100) and most rebounds in a single game (50). Bill Russell holds the record of most NBA titles in NBA history with 11 and is often regarded as the greatest winner in team sports. In terms of dominance at the center position, both Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell are the cream of the crop. But who has the edge when comparing both of their careers? Determining which center had more success might very well tell us the single greatest big man who ever lived.

To try to distinguish between the 2 legends, it is time to compare the careers of both players by their most important achievements.

11 Championships vs. 2 Championships

Whenever the goat debate takes place, NBA championships are often the first thing that comes up. After all, winning is what matters most and the greatest player of all time must be a winner of the highest order. But when it comes to rings, nobody is ahead of Bill Russell.

The Celtics leader was the best defensive center in the league during his era and it was his efforts on the boards and with his leadership that always made the difference. Russell was surrounded by a ton of Hall of Famers, but he was the undisputed engine and force behind an incredible Celtics Dynasty that lasted 12 years. Winning 11 rings in 12 years is ridiculous, and Wilt just doesn't come close. Chamberlain managed to win a ring with the Warriors as the best player on the team and then captured another ring with Jerry West and the Lakers.

Advantage: Bill Russell

5 MVP Awards vs. 4 MVP Awards

The MVP Award is also another major achievement that comes up in GOAT debates. This award shows who the best player throughout an entire regular season, and in the case of both of these players, it shows how many times they were the best player in the league. Russell has 5 MVP Awards compared to Wilt's 4 MVP Awards. This one is close, but it goes to Russell again.

Russell and Wilt both deserved their combined 9 MVP Awards because they were the most dominant superstars in the NBA on both ends of the floor. Bill Russell was a defensive specialist and one of the best outlet passers in history, while Wilt was am an athletic freak who could get a bucket every time down the floor. Russell's defense was extraordinary, and he is probably the only center who could impact a game at an MVP level without having to score. His impact as a shot-blocker and deterrent of easy baskets helped the Celtics dominate opponents every night.

On the other hand, Chamberlain could not be stopped as he could score over any player at any time. Chamberlain wasn't a slouch on defense either and it was his 2-way play that earned him 4 MVP Awards. Overall, Bill Russell has a massive edge in championships and also the edge in MVP Awards which is a great start for him in this career analysis.

Advantage: Bill Russell

0 Finals MVP Awards vs. 1 Finals MVP Awards

It is important to remember that Finals MVP Awards were only rewarded during the 1968-1969 season onwards. As a result, Bill Russell did not have a chance to win 1 Finals MVP during his 11 championship seasons. Interestingly enough, Jerry West was the first player to win the Finals MVP Award when he and the Lakers lost to Bill Russell’s Celtics.

Wilt Chamberlain had only 2 rings, but he at least was the undisputed best player in one of his Finals series to win one Finals MVP Award. In 1972, Chamberlain led the Lakers past the New York Knicks in 5 games. This advantage for Wilt is a massive reason why critics might point to the fact that Russell played with immense talent around him and that Chamberlain owned him in one on one situations when they played each other.

Either way, perhaps the most important thing is getting wins and nobody did that more than Bill Russell. In terms of Finals MVPs, Chamberlain has the edge and earns his first advantage so far although he did benefit from the fact that the award was introduced in 1969.

Advantage: Wilt Chamberlain

14,522 Points vs. 31,419 Points

In terms of getting buckets, Wilt Chamberlain has a case for being the single greatest ever. The man was unstoppable on offense, mainly because he had incredible athleticism and a very soft touch around the rim. Chamberlain's physical prowess and soft-touch meant he was an automatic machine around the rim, and he often made it look like he was playing against children. There is a reason why Wilt scored 100 points in a single game, and no other player came close to it yet.

Bill Russell accumulated less than half the amount of points that Chamberlain has, which is both a testament to Russell's supporting cast and also his ability to dominate in his role. Bill Russell knew he played with exceptional offensive talent, and he focused his efforts on being the best rim protector in the game and the best leader in the NBA. Bill Russell knew his limitations on offense as well, and while he could score, he knew that playing defense and rebounding the ball gave his team the best chance to win every year. And it certainly worked.

Still, Russell does not come anywhere close to Wilt as a scorer and Chamberlain has the edge as the far greater scorer.

Advantage: Wilt Chamberlain

11 All-NBA Teams vs. 10 All-NBA Teams

Making All-NBA Teams is a hallmark of greatness as a player. There are only 3 All-NBA Teams in total and making one of them proves that a player is on top of their game at their position. Unsurprisingly, both Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain made at least 10 All-NBA Teams although Russell has yet another slight advantage. Bill Russell made 11 All-NBA Teams which certainly looks nice alongside his 11 rings. Wilt made 10 which isn't anything to scoff at, but Russell has the advantage here.

Even though Wilt was an offensive machine on his own, he was a very individual player, and perhaps his image as a selfish player hurt his status a bit. Bill Russell was the ultimate team player and he seems to be revered more for his greatness than Wilt ever was. Nonetheless, Bill Russell made one more All-NBA Team and has the advantage over the great Wilt Chamberlain.

Advantage: Bill Russell

1 All-Defensive NBA Teams vs. 2 All-Defensive NBA Teams

If only blocks and steals were recorded back in the day, both Russell and Chamberlain would have broken a slew of records. Nonetheless, they managed to make at least one All-NBA Defensive Team in their careers which also doesn’t tell the whole story. All-Defensive Teams were only awarded to players starting the 1968-1969 season, so both Russell and Wilt only made a combined 3 All-Defensive Teams.

Still, Chamberlain managed a slight advantage. One more All-Defensive Team on his resume does give him an advantage over Russell which closes a wide gap between their careers. Once again, it is important to remember that All-Defensive Teams were only awarded starting the 1968-1969 season so both of these centers would have had more appearances to their names if it was awarded beforehand. Wilt take this advantage for the sake of this career analysis.

Advantage: Wilt Chamberlain


Both of these centers are 2 of the best 10 players ever and might be the 2 best big men ever. Bill Russell has the major advantage with 11 rings, but Wilt Chamberlain manages to even it up with individual dominance. Overall, both centers even it up in the major career categories and it is a toss-up between them. After all, these two big men, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, make up the majority of all goat debates among centers.

For those who value winning over everything else, Bill Russell will be the better player. Regardless of rings as that is also a team achievement, Wilt may be the better individual player because no player in history can accumulate points and rebounds the way Wilt could. For the sake of this career comparison, Wilt and Russell even up over their careers with personal bias the only determinant of the better center.


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