My former WZON co-host Pat Spekhardt started a lively Facebook debate last week. His contention: the Tom Brady era is amazing but not as impressive as the Bill Russell era.
As often was the case on our old radio show, I feel the need to set him straight.
Let’s be clear out of the gate. Bill Russell was a superior athlete, a perpetual winner, and is a great human being. Just because I think what Tom Brady has accomplished is more amazing doesn’t imply disrespect to a living legend.
But Tom’s reign over the NFL is light years ahead of Bill’s dominance. Russell won 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons. It is unlikely that will ever be accomplished again. Mainly because the NBA is a vastly superior and more competitive league than it was 50 plus years ago.
As a rookie, Bill helped lead the Celtics to the NBA title. But did you know there were just 8 NBA teams back then? This included powerhouse squads from Rochester, Syracuse and Ft. Wayne. The NBA was barely a functioning entity.
By his last season in 1969, Bill won the title as a player/coach. The league had grown to 14 teams.
Games were televised but not many people watched. Even as late as the early 80’s NBA playoff games were taped and played later.
How was attendance in Boston during the Russell years?
1956-57 25 10,517
1957-58 29 8,308
1958-59 30 8,165
1959-60 27 7,755
1960-61 28 7,199
1961-62 28 6,852
1962-63 30 8,753
1963-64 30 7,445
1964-65 30 8,318
1965-66 31 7,941
1966-67 31 10,409
1967-68 37 8,670
1968-69 36 8,948
Not very impressive.
Back then the NBA lived in the distant shadow of Major League Baseball and to some degree boxing. In Russell’s last season, the fellow Garden dwelling Bruins averaged well over 14,000 fans per game. Almost twice the Celtics.
It’s hard to take the NBA completely seriously until Bird, Magic and then Jordan.
Bill Russell was a man amongst men. Still is. But Tom Brady is a deity.
TB 12 has been to thirteen conference title games, nine Superbowls, and has won six of them. All in a time when the NFL is the most popular and dominant sport in America.
Those nine Super Bowls were viewed in on TV by more than a billion people in this country alone. Teams hire dozens of coaches and spend millions of dollars in time and technology to study Brady. They watch every play he makes in High Definition and in slow motion to look for a way to defeat him.
Still they mostly fail.
The draft, schedule and salary cap are set up to create parity in the league and ensure that someone like TomBrady can’t win every year. Week in and out the Patriots get to play “Superbowls” against every team. Tom takes their best shot and way more often than not prevails.
He has played on the biggest stage this country has to offer nine times. That’s not only more than any other human being, it’s more than any other franchise!
New England is fortunate to have had Bill Russell. We are blessed to have Tom Brady.