Bill Russell- The Greatest! 12-18-11

This is my response to the recent favorable comparison of Tyson Chandler, the newly acquired NY Knickerbocker, to the great and legendary Bill Russell by Coach Mike D’Antoni,

There was no one like Bill Russell!

For me there are certain sacred aspects in sports regarding both hero worship and generally accepted accounting practices, of which Alan Rosenberg is our resident expert. With regards to Bill Russell, he is the gold standard of both in any sport, no less basketball. Bill Russell’s balance sheet rates the highest by all standards of evaluation.

By 1955, the Celtics who had led the league in scoring the three previous seasons understood they needed a big man in the middle. Bill Reinhardt, Red’s old coach from George Washington advised him to keep his eye on San Francisco’s big center Bill Russell. Two great coaches advised Red, Phil Woolpert, of the Dons and Pete Newell of California, along with Fred Scolari and Don Barksdale, who were on the Celtics, that Russell was the genuine article. Therefore Red realized that he had to plan carefully if he wanted to acquire the rights to Russell. Eventually Red learned that his old friend and now nemesis Ben Kerner intended to draft Russell with his second round choice. Cincinnati, who had the first choice, felt they could not afford Russell, who would also be entertaining bids from the Harlem Globetrotters. The Royals already had great rebounding strength from their rookie sensation, the ill-fated Maurice Stokes and were going to draft All-American Sihugo Green. Therefore Red had to make a deal with Kerner. His star center Ed Macauley was from St. Louis and his child had taken ill with spinal meningitis and the young boy was transferred to specialists near his home in St. Louis. Macauley had also graduated and starred at the University of St. Louis and would be anxious to play at home and be near his son. Kerner also demanded that Cliff Hagan be thrown in on the deal. Hagan, who with Frank Ramsey, came from the University of Kentucky, had been drafted a few years earlier, but because they could play another season in college and then had service obligations weren’t available until 1956. Ramsey had played a little for the Celtics when he was discharged early and Hagan was a rookie. Ramsey would later play for the Celtics and become famous as the first “Sixth” man and Hagan went on to star with the Hawks along with Bob Pettit. The Celtics had a “territorial” draft pick and used it to acquire Tommy Heinsohn, another All-American from Holy Cross. When Russell returned in December from Australia with the Olympic Gold medal, and joined the Celtics in mid-season, the “Dynasty” was finally pieced together. The Celtics went on to win eleven of the next thirteen NBA titles. They probably would have won in 1958 but Russell sprained his ankle and the Hawks, led by Petit and Hagan, won the two last games 102-100 and 110-109. In that final game, the great Bob Pettit scored 50 points. Personally I doubt that would have happened if Russell had been healthy. But it did. After that setback, the Celtics went on to win 8 straight titles. It could have easily had been 10!

One great and lasting college basketball memory occurred when I came to the new Garden, on a cool March 19, 1966 afternoon, with Mount Vernon friend and NYU junior Alan Rosenberg. A good NYU (15-9) team, led by former White Plains star guard Mal Graham, met lily-white Brigham Young (17-5) in the National Invitation Tournament finals. NYU had beaten DePaul, Wichita and Villanova, while Brigham Young had defeated Temple and Army. Graham, a high school All-American, who had torched Mount Vernon High School, in our senior year (1962-3) for 42 points in two separate games, led the Violets with an outstanding average of around 25 points per game. The next year he would average 29 points per game and be second in the nation in scoring. The other star on NYU was the 6’4” Bruce Kaplan from James Madison High School in Brooklyn. When we arrived Alan took me into the locker room where I met Graham and Kaplan. It was my first and last time that I was in the locker room of the Garden and unfortunately it was a blowout for the Mormons from Utah, whose quick guards ran the Violets ragged and won going away, 97-84. Interestingly, the coach of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was the famous Bobby Knight, who was an Ohio State teammate of two of the current Celtics, John Havlicek and Larry Siegfried. When I was in college I got to meet Siegfried at a number of Boston University parties. Knight always felt he was a better ballplayer than Siegfried. They were both selected in the 1962 NBA draft and both wound up sitting at the end of the bench of their respective teams. Siegfried was signed for $1000 bonus and Knight for $500. When it came time for cuts to be made by their respective teams, Knight was cut because his team had only invested $500 in him, wherein Siegfried, who was on the Cincinnati Royals was kept around because $1000 was a larger investment. Siegfried was eventually cut and Red Auerbach, and the Celtics, liked his style of play. He remained there for years, and contributed mightily as a scrappy ballplayer who collected 6 championship rings and averaged over 13 points per game for a number of seasons. After a 9-year career, in which he averaged over 10 points per game, he retired. Knight felt he should have been drafted higher than Siegfried and therefore gotten a bigger bonus. He blamed his low draft position to a poor performance in Madison Square Garden. His father had died right before the tournament and the scouts, who were all there, saw an underachieving Bobby Knight.

Part II Bill Russell

Russell was the greatest of all players. He was like a giant bird of prey. His timing was impeccable and brought an incredible level and style of defense to the sport that had never existed before. Before Russell and the 24-second clock, which forced a team to take a shot within a time parameter, basketball was slow, defensive, plodding and very physical. Games could be slowed down to a crawl. With the advent of the 24-second rule the game opened up and scoring increased immediately. The “fast-break,” which was instituted by guards like the pre-war stars Hank Luisetti and Bob Davies, came into its own with Cousy, who made it into an art form. When Russell came into the fray he became the engine of that system. Russell’s ability to block shots, to intimidate the opposition and to control the ball after it was blocked was unique. Almost no one else could do what he did, and even today 50 years later, no one has really mastered that skill at the level Russell had developed right from the start. Others who followed, batted the ball away, as did Chamberlain. But Russell, not only grabbed rebounds, both defensive, but the all important offensive ones, but he set up the fast break with his remarkable outlet passes from controlling the blocked shots of his opponents. That was and still remains unique. Others like Jerry Lucas, Bill Walton and Wes Unseld were strong and mobile and could move the ball and shoot. But they did not have Russell’s uncanny timing, and they could not shut down the middle off to the opposition like Russell could. I went to the Boston Garden often and the games that I saw that pitted Russell against Wilt Chamberlain were monumental. The “Wilt” was unlike any other athletic specimen. No one could stop him, but at least Russell could keep him contained. The fact that Chamberlain averaged 50.4 point per game throughout one season (1961-2) probably remains the most remarkable achievement in sport’s history. Therefore without Russell in his way, Chamberlain would have bulldozed the whole league and owned all of the championship banners that were available. The Russell-Chamberlain rivalry was probably the greatest confrontation in the history of sport. It far outweighed; Borg-McEnroe, Jimmy Brown-Sam Huff, Joe DiMaggio-Bob Feller, Helen Wills-Helen Jacob, Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johanson, Ali-Frazier, Gordie Howe-Rocket Richard, Bird-Magic, or even War Admiral and Seabiscuit. In this greatest of all battles between these titans of the game, Russell and Chamberlain matched up 142 times, not counting All-Star or exhibition games. Wilt; who outweighed Big Bill by 50 pounds, and was at least 5 inches taller even grabbed an amazing 55 rebounds against him in 1960. But in these classic struggles Russell’s Celtic teams won 86 games or 60.6% of the time. In those 142 games, Chamberlain averaged 28.7 points and 28.7 rebounds per game, wherein Russ averaged 14.5 points and 23.7 rebounds per game. In their respective careers, including both regular season and playoffs Russell averaged 15.24 points per game and 22.8 rebounds, while The Wilt averaged 29.07 points per game and 23.10 rebounds per game. Statistically there is no “smoking gun” between them. Russell and Auerbach always felt that Chamberlain would get his points, so it was more critical to limit his teammate’s contributions and therefore win the game. Russell could shoot when he wanted to and averaged between 16 and 18 points per game through his middle years with the Celts. The truth is that Russell didn’t have to shoot and was much happier and productive setting up his teammates.

So any comparison to Russell must be carefully weighed and judiciously framed within the context of a player’s career and accomplishments. Russell played in a unique era when after league contraction, the best players in the world were vying for very few starting spots. The NBA, through most of Russell’s career, had 8 to 12 teams and making the starting five was incredibly difficult. Every team had great players and because basketball rules traditionally favored offense in the post 24 second clock era, defense became much more critical. The great success of the Celtics, in the heart of the Cousy-Russell era, was that not only could they shoot and run with the best of the best, but their defense, led by Big Bill Russell and ably assisted by other All-Pro defensive greats like KC Jones and Tom “Satch” Sanders was unmatched. Russell will always be regarded as the greatest winner of “All-Time: in any sport, but the innovator who changed his sport and made it his own.

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A lifelong New Yorker, who now lives full-time in Palm Beach County, Richard was raised in Mount Vernon, New York and he was educated in the Mount Vernon public schools He graduated from Boston University with a BA in American History. After spending a year on Wall Street as a research analyst with Bache & Co., he joined a manufacturing and importing firm, where over the next twenty-five years he rose to the position of chief operating officer. After the sale of that business, Richard entered into the financial services field with Metropolitan Life and is a Registered Representative, who has been associated with Acorn Financial Services which is affiliated with John Hancock Life Insurance Company of Boston, Ma. Today, he is a retired broker who had specialized in long-term care insurance and financial planning. One of Richard’s recent activities was to advise and encourage communities to seek ways to incorporate “sustainability and resiliency” into their future infrastructure planning. After a lifetime in politics, with many years working as a district leader, which involved party organizational work, campaign chair activity and numerous other political tasks, Richard has been involved with numerous civic and social causes. In recent years, Richard served in 2005 as the campaign coordinator of the Re-Elect Paul Feiner Campaign in Greenburgh, NY and he again chaired Supervisor Feiner’s successful landslide victory in 2007. Over the next few years, he advised a number of political candidates. He has served as an appointed Deputy Supervisor of the Town of Greenburgh, with responsibilities regarding the town’s “liaison program.” He was a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board of the Town of Greenburgh, NY. Richard has lectured on FDR, The New Deal and 20th century American history in the Mount Vernon schools, at the Westchester Council of Social Studies annual conference in White Plains, and at many senior citizen groups, which include appearances at the Old Guard of White Plains, the Rotary Clubs of Elmsford and White Plains, and various synagogue groups around Westchester. In the winter of 2006 Richard was the leader of the VOCAL forum, sponsored by the Westchester County Office of Aging, which addresses the concerns of Westchester County’s Intergenerational Advocacy Educational Speak-out forums for senior citizens. Richard has given lectures for the Active Retirement Project, which is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center on the Hudson, the Greenburgh Hebrew Center, and other groups around Westchester County. Richard also is the founder and Chairperson of the Jon Breen Memorial Fund, that judges and grants annual prizes to students at Mount Vernon High School who submit essays on public policy themes. He also sponsors the Henry M. Littlefield History Prize for the leading MVHS history student. Richard serves on the Student College Scholarship Committee of Mount Vernon High School. In past years Richard chaired and moderated the Jon Breen Fund Award’s cablecast program with the Mayor and local and school officials. Richard has been a member of Blythedale Children’s Hospital’s Planned Giving Professional Advisory Board, and was a founding member of the committee to re-new the FDR Birthday Balls of the 1930’s and 1940’s with the March of Dimes’ effort to eliminate birth defects. Their renewal dinner was held at Hyde Park on January 30, 2003. Richard is currently an active contributor to the Roosevelt Institute, which is involved in many pursuits which included the opening of the Henry A. Wallace Center at Hyde Park, and the Eleanor Roosevelt – Val-Kill Foundation. In 2007, he proposed to the City of Mount Vernon an effort to develop an arts, educational, and cultural center as part of a downtown re-development effort. Richard was a team partner with the Infrastructure & Energy Solutions Group. IEFG which has developed innovative strategies for the 21st Century. Richard hosted a weekly program on WVOX-1460 AM radio, called “The Advocates,” which was concerned with “public policy” issues. The show, which was aired from 2007 until May 15, 2013, has had amongst its guests; Representative Charles Rangel, Chairperson of the House Ways and Means Committee, Mr. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, along with hundreds of others. All the 300 shows are archived at Richard currently gives lectures on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR and the Jewish Community, The New Deal, FDR and Douglas MacArthur, 20th Century American Foreign Policy Resulting in Conflict, and Israel’s Right to Exist. Richard lives in Boynton Beach, Fl, with his wife Linda of 44 years. They have two married children. Their daughter Dana is a Rutgers College graduate, with a MS from Boston University, and is the Assistant Director of Recruitment at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Their son Jon is an electrical engineering graduate of Princeton University and a senior software architect at NY/Mellon Bank in NYC. Richard J. Garfunkel Recent Appearances: KTI Synagogue, Rye Brook, NY- Long Term Care & Estate Conservation- Anshe Shalom Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY- Long Term Care- American Legion Post, Valhalla, NY- Long Term Care and Asset Protection- Doyle Senior Ctr, New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care and Asset Protection- AME Methodist Ministers, New Rochelle, NY, LTC and Charitable Giving- Profession Women in Construction, Elmsford, NY, LTC and Business Benefits- Kol Ami Synagogue- White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Disability - Beth El Men's Club-New Rochelle, NY-Long Term Care-Is it Necessary- Greater NY Dental Meeting Javits Ctr, NY, NY- LTC and Disability- IBEW Local #3 , White Plains, NY, Long Term Care and Asset Protection, Health Fair -Bethel Synagogue, New Rochelle, NY-LTC and Disability, Heath Fair- Riverdale Mens Club CSAIR- Riverdale, NY- LTC- Life Weight Watchers of Westchester and the Bronx-LTC and Tax Implications Sunrise Assisted Living of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, NY-LTC Sprain Brook Manor of Scarsdale-LTC- November 15, 2001 Sunrise Assisted Living of Stamford, Connecticut, February 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, February, 2002 The Old Guard Society of White Plains, NY, April, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY August, 2002 Kol Ami Synagogue, White Plains, NY, October, 2002 JCC of Scarsdale, Scarsdale, NY, November, 2002 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY, January, 2003 The Rotary Club of White Plains, NY January, 2003 The Westchester Meadows, Valhalla, NY April, 2003 Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY January, 2004 Mount Vernon High School, Mount Vernon, NY March 2004 Kol Ami/JCC of White Plains, NY November, 2004 The Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, January 2005 The Sunrise of Fleetwood, Mount Vernon, April, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, November, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, December, 2005 The Woodlands of Ardsley, assisted living, January, 2005 Rotary Club of Elmsford, April, 2006 Kiwanis Club of Yonkers, June, 2006 Greenburgh Jewish Center, November, 2006 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, February, 2007 Hebrew Institute, White Plains, March, 2007 Temple Kol Ami, White Plains, NY, April, 2007 Westchester Meadows. Valhalla, November, 2007 Hebrew Institute. White Plains, November, 2007 Art Zuckerman Radio Show- January, 2008 JCC of the Hudson, Tarrytown, February, 2008 Matt O’Shaughnessy Radio Show, March, 2008 WVOX –Election Night Coverage, November, 2008 WVOX – Inaugural Coverage, January 20, 2009 The Advocates-host of the WVOX Radio Show, 2007- 2010 Rotary Club of Pleasantville, February, 2009 Hebrew Institute of White Plains, May, 2009 JCC Hudson, Tarrytown, December, 2009-10-11-12 Brandeis Club, Yonkers, March 25, 2010

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