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The Reason Why Bill Russell And Wilt Chamberlain Didn't Talk For More Than 20 Years

The Reason Why Bill Russell And Wilt Chamberlain Didn't Talk More Than 20 Years

Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are names that are often spoken together. There are reasons for this. For one, Russell and Chamberlain are on the top of everyone's best centers list.

Both Russell and Chamberlain were outstanding rebounders, and if they kept blocks as stats back in the 1960s, Rusell and Chamberlain would surely be No. 1 and No. 2 on that list.

The biggest reason their names are often spoken together is that they were big rivals on the court back in the 1960s. The two played against each other 94 times in the regular season and 49 more times in the playoffs.

In these matchups, Chamberlain dominated individually with averages of 29.9 points and 28.1 rebounds per game. This is compared to Russell's 14.2 points and 22.9 rebounds per game.

The problem for Chamberlain was Russell's team won over 60% of the time. In the playoffs, Russell's Boston Celtics won 59% of their games against Chamberlain's teams.

The biggest difference was that Russell's team won 11 NBA championships, an NBA record. While Chamberlain's teams only won two championships.

The question, though, was, were the two rivals friends? Yes, they were really good friends. In fact, the two would often pick each other up from the airport when they played each other.

On top of picking each other up, Russell would often sleep over at Chamberlain's house the night before their two teams would play.

“I mean, he’d come past my house on Thanksgiving, eat my food, sleep in my bed, and the next day whip my butt,” Wilt said in a 1997 interview with Bob Costas. “Now my mother would say, ‘Now, Wilt, we shouldn’t feed Bill so well next time'.”

This friendship continued to stay strong until Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals.

Game 7 Leads To A Broken Friendship

The Boston Celtics, led by an aging Bill Russell, were the underdogs as they played Wilt Chamberlain's mighty Los Angeles Lakers. No one believed the “old” Celtics would win Game 7, except maybe for Russell.

The Celtics stormed out to a huge lead over the Lakers. After three quarters, the Celtics led 91-76. Then, with about 5:55 left in th3 fourth quarter, Chamberlain hurt his knee while grabbing a rebound.

The Lakers would storm back into the game and make it close. Chamberlain would not return to the game, and the Lakers' comeback attempt fell short as the Celtics hung on for the 108-106 victory.

This was Russell's 11th title, and he'd retire after the season. Later that year, Russell was caught saying some harsh words about his friend.

Russell was at the University of Wisconsin, and he claimed Chamberlain “copped out” of the game. He also went on to say that “any injury short of a broken leg or broken back isn't good enough.”

In his second memoir, Second Wind, Russell wrote this about Chamberlain's leaving in Game 7:

“Wilt’s leaving was like a misspelled word at the end of a cherished book. My anger at him that night caused great friction between us.”

This quote by Russell affected Chamberlain so much that he stopped talking to Russell for decades. Their once-close relationship was over, and for basketball fans, this was upsetting.

Chamberlain addressed Russell's comments in an interview in 1987:

(Begin at 5:20)

“We were very, very close at one time, and Russell had some statements to make after he got out of basketball, I think were somewhat unkind to me.”

“When I came out the game, which was the seventh game against Boston in LA, with a knee problem. I tore apart my Achilles tendon, and he said, at some type of speech, that he would've never left the game.”

At that point in 1987, Chamberlain explained that Russell had apologized for his comments, just not directly:

“He apologized a few years later on, but never to me, but through the press or what have you.”

Russell also said some remarks about Chamberlain during an interview on The Dick Cavett Show, this time in 1971:

Cavett: “They say that Wilt Chamberlain is now playing your style; Bill Russell style of basketball. What does this mean?”

Russell: “The Lakers are playing the same style of ball that we played about 10-15 years ago.”

Cavett: “They just caught up?”

Russell: “Well, you know some guys, some people are slow learners.”

This was an apparent jab at Chamberlain, and it came right in the middle of the Lakers' historic 33-game winning streak, which is still an NBA record. Russell then mentioned Bill Sherman, the Lakers coach, and K. C. Jones, their assistant coach.

Sherman and Jones were both former Celtics with Russell, so he tried to move away from Chamberlain, but his point got across. Their relationship would stay broken until 1993.

A Commercial That Brings Back Their Friendship

Shaquille O'Neal was the next big man to be given the hype of possibly being the greatest center of all time, even as a rookie. Because of this, Shaq's first shoe sponsor, Reebok, wanted to use this to their advantage.

The shoe company wanted to shoot a commercial with Shaq and a few former great big men. This included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, and yes, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.

Russell and Chamberlain finally got to talk to each other face to face, and things went well. They got along like they never stopped being friends.

After the commercial, the two stayed close, always talking and doing numerous interviews together. The two seemed to never stop laughing when they were together.

This was a great thing to see as NBA fans, especially since Chamberlain would pass away in 1999 from congestive heart failure. After Chamberlain's death, Russell had these kind words to say about his friend:

“The fierceness of our competition bonded us together for eternity.”

Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain's names will go down in history as two of the greatest players to ever play this game. They'll also go down as two of the best friends that luckily made up at the right time.

Before you go, enjoy the behind the scene footage of the Reebok commercial that reunited their friendship:


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