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Russell vs Chamberlain

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Uploaded on Jun 1, 2008

Bill Russell terrorized the NBA for three seasons. No one had ever seen anything quite like him.

Then came Wilt Chamberlain.

Bigger by at least three inches, stronger, arguably just as quick, and in possession of the greatest offensive skills from the center position the basketball world has yet seen, Chamberlain loomed as a major threat to Russell's supremacy. On the eve of the 1959-60 NBA season, many people automatically assumed that the Russell Era was over, that the next dozen years or so would belong exclusively to Wilt Chamberlain.

Carl Braun was not one of those people. The veteran Knicks guard had played against each of the pivot greats during the exhibition season, and he figured he knew what made Bill Russell tick after watching him play from the moment he entered the NBA, fresh from winning an Olympic gold medal, in December 1956.

"This challenge by Chamberlain is going to make [Russell] better than ever," Braun forecast. "He's got a lot of pride, and nobody is going to knock him off that All-Star team without a fight."

Red Auerbach couldn't have said it better. Nor could Bill Russell, of course. You want to talk about an A-1 prophecy, start with this one: The Bill Russell reign of terror was only beginning.

But so was the greatest individual subplot in American team sports history. For Wilt Chamberlain was every bit as gifted as his advocates believed. He would rewrite the NBA record book many times over. He would become the greatest individual force in the sport's history. And he would prod Bill Russell into playing some of his very best basketball. Absent Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell would have been great. But because of Wilt Chamberlain's terrifying presence, Bill Russell became, as the old Army ad said, all that he could be.

"People say it was the greatest individual rivalry they've ever seen," Russell says. "I agree with that. I have to laugh today. I'll turn on the TV and see the Knicks play the Lakers, and half the time Patrick [Ewing] isn't even guarding Shaq [O'Neal], and vice-versa. Let me assure you that if either Wilt's or Russ' coach had ever told one of them he couldn't guard the other guy, he would have lost that player forever!"

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