In the midst of “The Last Dance” frequenting our TVs every Sunday night on ESPN, we got an inside look at the hyper-competitive nature of Michael Jordan. The dude did whatever it took to win.
Boston Celtics center Bill Russell was the same way.
He wasn’t traditionally the best scorer or most dynamic player, although he produced his fair share of buckets. He was the leader who steered his team to titles by protecting the rim and snatching rebounds.
In Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, Russell carried the Celtics to their fourth-straight championship and fifth in six years, behind 30 points and 40 rebounds.
1962 NBA Finals: Lakers vs. Celtics
The road to the NBA championship is no cakewalk. At the time, only six teams made the NBA playoffs and the one-seed earned a bye. The Red Auerbach-led Celtics — the top seed in the East and fresh off a victory over the St. Louis Hawks for the 1961 title — faced Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia Warriors in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Warriors won their best-of-five, first-round series 3-2 over the Syracuse Nationals, who became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963 after the Warriors moved to San Fransisco.
Rivals Russell and Chamberlain battled down low through a grueling seven-game series. The Celtics narrowly escaped with a 109-107 victory in Game 7 to advance to their fifth NBA Finals in as many years. On the other side of the bracket, the top-seeded Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons — who took care of the Cincinnati Royals the previous round — in six games to claim the West title. The storied franchises faced off for the first time since 1959 when the Lakers resided in Minneapolis.
Russell, Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, Tom Heinsohn, Frank Ramsey, Tom Sanders, and the Celtics versus Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Frank Selvy, and the Lakers. NBA historians are geeking out just thinking about all these hall of famers.
LA and Boston alternated wins, except for a two-game streak by the Lakers in Games 2 and 3. The Celtics evened the series in game 6 and traveled back to the Boston Garden for the decisive Game 7.
This is where Russell shined.
Bill Russell Takes Over Game 7
The two teams traded punches while Russell grabbed every rebound in sight. Playing the entire game, including the five-minute overtime period, he hauled in 40 (!) boards, nearly half of the team’s 82 total. He tied his 1960 NBA Finals record for most rebounds in a single game. Offensively, he poured in 30 points, going 8-of-18 from the field and 14-of-17 from the free-throw line. The performance pushed the Celtics to a 110-107 victory and fourth consecutive NBA title.
Forget the spotlight and stats; Russell didn’t need them. All he needed was the win. Whether that’s scoring 5 points or 30, the five-time regular-season MVP and 12-time All-Star embraced the role best suited for his team’s success. It’s the reason the Finals MVP trophy is named after him. It’s the reason he has 11 championships and is the greatest winner in NBA history.