Imagine: The greatest athletic deal-closer of the twentieth century is celebrated endlessly, his name floating atop every all-time championship list and dropped into every serious debate over who has exerted the greatest influence on their sport, his close personal friendships awash in celebrity, royalty and head-of-state chutzpah. His likeness is iconic, a symbol of championship excellence against which all others in team sport are measured. His legacy as the ultimate bottom line, results-oriented exclamation point is long since secure, the label ‘winner’ perhaps more synonymous with his name than any athlete in history. And yet when Bill Russell – yes, that Bill Russell, the one with the signature laugh and all of those championship rings, many of them coming at the expense of a certain statistical glutton named Wilt Chamberlain – is asked to name the single greatest player he has ever been associated with, the answer comes quickly and without hesitation…
Jones on the great Bill Russell:
Bill Russell was a fella determined to be the best that he could be – I hate to say that because it sounds like the Marines, but that is the absolute truth. He was determined to be the best. He had that will to win. Whatever cliché you want to pick, it just isn’t a cliché when you’re talking about Bill Russell. He was so competitive and so committed to excellence that he tried to win every play, every possession. To me, what makes a player great is the ability to make the other players around him play better. Bill Russell did that. He was just an incredibly special basketball player, and nowhere was that more apparent than on defense. From the moment Bill Russell joined the Boston Celtics and on up until today, he remains the greatest defensive player to ever play the game. And trust me, I do follow basketball – and I have not seen anyone that could block shots with the great timing that he had. It was unbelievable. And it was just a joy to play with him knowing that nobody you played was going into the lane and make a layup. Not as long as Bill Russell was the protector of that basket. He carried that level of play with him for thirteen years in the NBA, and I thank God that I had the opportunity to play basketball with him for twelve of those thirteen years. Between the two of us, we hold the record for championships. He won eleven and I won ten. There are only two players in NBA history to ever win more than ten championships, and that’s Russell and I. You can talk about great players – you can talk about Michael Jordan all you want because he was a great player. But again, what makes a truly great player is a man who makes his teammates around him better. Nobody did that better than Bill Russell..
Jones on being one of the greatest clutch shooters in NBA history:
I didn’t demand the basketball. The impetus came from Red Auerbach. He took all the pressure off of the players – in those tight games where you needed that one shot, he would call timeout, pull us all together and call the play for me. As we’re coming off the court he’d say, ‘We’re running the two play for Sam Jones’, or ‘We’re going to run the four play for Sam Jones.’ I had quite a few plays designed for me to get a shot off. I knew when we ran those plays that we were going to have an open shot.