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When Bill Russell became the NBA's first black superstar in the 1950's & 60'S his reward and appreciation from his Boston Celtic fans was to defecate in his bed after he helped lead the team to several NBA titles - (Library of Congress - New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper - photo)


To many Michael Jordan is considered the best NBA player of all time. The question is who will join him? - (Steve Lipofsky photo)


Fan interest during the Larry Bird, Magic Johnson era of the 80's regenerated the popularity of the league after the down period of the 70's - (Steve Lipofsky www.Basketballphoto.com photo)



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The NBA went through a growth period during the 60's when the Boston Celtics with Bill Russell dominating the league in winning all but one title during the decade. Russell endured racism but stood tall and overcame it all. The black players of that almost all white NBA 50's era paved the way for future black stars such as Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan to be recognized as being the best of all time. But... there was one white player that could keep up the pace and become the new NBA generations great white hope to also qualify as one of the leagues all time best - THIS DAY IN THE NBA



Sunday, October 06, 2013


Bill Russell had to overcome more than his NBA opponents he also had to endure racism from fans and NBA opponents. He was the only black player on the Boston Celtics during his 1956/57 rookie season. Of the top 20 scorers in the league that season there was only one black player Maurice Stokes of the then Rochester Royals (now Sacramento Kings) on the list as he was ranked # 13 with a 15.5 ppg average.

This column is not about racism in sports that existed across the board in all professional leagues as well as in the private sector during that time but it is to demonstrate the greatness of Russell and his arch-rival Wilt Chamberlain, two players that played in an era that black players had more to contend with than just playing a game of basketball. They are true basketball pioneers that helped break down racial barriers due to their accepted superior skills and eventual fan support. Their achievements are carved in stone resulting in eventual fan acceptance and helped break down racial barriers that helped bolster the futures of the now black NBA stars that dominate NBA rosters. The winning over the fans process had its bumps in the road.

As a result of repeated racial bigotry, Russell refused to respond to fan acclaim or friendship from his neighbors, thinking it was insincere and hypocritical. He decided that since the world hadn't given him anything, he would give the world nothing in return. This attitude contributed to his legendary bad rapport with fans and journalists. He alienated Celtics fans by saying, "You owe the public the same it owes you, nothing! I refuse to smile and be nice to the kiddies." This supported the opinion that Russell (who was the highest paid Celtic) was egotistical, paranoid and hypocritical, and even the FBI described Russell in his file as "an arrogant Negro who won't sign autographs for white children".

The already hostile atmosphere between Russell and Boston hit its apex when vandals broke into his house, covered the walls with racist graffiti, damaged his trophies and defecated in the beds. In response, Russell described Boston as a "flea market of racism". In King Of The Court by Aram Goudsouzian, he was quoted saying, "From my very first year I thought of myself as playing for the Celtics, not for Boston. The fans could do or think whatever they wanted." After his retirement, he described the Boston press as corrupt and racist; in response, Boston sports journalist Larry Claflin claimed that Russell himself was the real racist. Despite his refusal to sign autographs, he accepted a $250,000 contract to sign 5,000 pieces of memorabilia.

Russell had it right about racist journalists as during my 10-year period covering the NBA during what many consider the leagues golden era. In the press room I was privy to listening to the racist comments by reporters behind the black players backs that they were referring to and it was sickening. The most memorable were comments made by the Los Angeles based AP (Associated Press) reporter who repeatedly made prejudiced remarks. A statistician for the LA Lakers always had bigoted remarks in his acrid verbal arsenal. Another radio talk show host thought racist comments was humor as was the case with his fellow journalist supporters. He was so stupid that he couldn't differentiate humor from racism.

Racism in professional sports should be included when selecting the best of all time as the road those pioneers had to climb was steep but they persevered and survived to make way for the current black athletes that are earning millions of dollars a year as a result of the triumphs of black pioneering athletes who suffered but survived due to their superior skills and unwavering effort.

To complement the NBA's all time greatest there are three members of the 1992 USA Olympic Dream Team that round out our all-time greatest NBA starting five. Michael Jordan is an unquestionable choice for shooting guard. Larry Bird at forward and Magic Johnson at point guard completes our starting line-up.

Jordan is a no brainer choice given his repeated heroics in winning games to compliment his being a member of six NBA title winning teams. We included Johnson and Bird as their rivalry led to the leagues resurgence in the 80's following a period of decline during the 70's when there was no dominate team and lacked superstars.

Johnson was the first 6'9" point guard in the league which came about after eventually pushing out incumbent Norm Nixon out of that position. They coexisted for two title winning seasons. It was Johnson's performance during his rookie season (1979–80) in the sixth game of the NBA finals against the Philadelphia 76ers that was the writing on the wall of what greatness was to come.

Lakers center Kareem Abdul Jabbar was injured in game 5 and the team was in a quandary of who would play the position. Johnson volunteered as he claimed that he announced to the team on their plane ride, "Have no fear, Magic is here."

Magic put on one of the greatest performances of all time as he scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, dished out 7 assists, and made 3 steals in a 123-107 win, while playing guard, forward, and center at different times during the game. From that point on Johnson became acknowledged as a force to be reckoned with.

Johnson became the only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award, and his clutch performance is still regarded as one of the finest in NBA history. He also became one of four players to win NCAA and NBA championships in consecutive years.

Following the Lakers trading Nixon to the then San Diego Clippers after the 82/83 season that put an end the dispute of who would be the teams point guard. Johnson led the team to three more titles at that position giving him and the Lakers a total of five NBA titles during the 80's.

Larry Bird is not the typical power forward since he lacked bulk but he averaged 10 rebounds per game during his career. What made him our choice other than his skills were his game intelligence, hustle and positive attitude. With his Olympic Dream Team teammates Jordan and Johnson complimenting Russell and Baylor this is as formidable an all time NBA team that could ever be assembled.

One can't argue the choices IF they have seen Baylor and Russell play. What is lacking with the choices best of all time NBA players by present journalists is most if not all lack the history of witnessing great talent of previous eras prior to the 70's and 80's. Unfortunately these inexperienced scribes currently make the decisions in NBA All-Star voting today. What is most telling from our ratings are the players considered by many as the best of all time that failed to make our top 13 all time greatest NBA players list. WHO ARE THEY? STAY TUNED...

Part 3 Next - The NBA's BEST of All-Time 2nd team


1st Team
2nd Team
Larry Bird
next column
Elgin Baylor
Bill Russell
Michael Jordan
Magic Johnson



October 6, 1993 Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls announced his retirement from the NBA at a news conference in Deerfield, IL. Jordan’s retirement after nine seasons came less than four months after he helped lead the Bulls to their third consecutive NBA Championship with a six-game victory over Phoenix in the 1993 NBA Finals. His nine-year totals included 21,541 career points, seven straight league scoring titles (1987-93), an NBA record-high career scoring average (32.3 ppg), and three regular season and three NBA Finals MVP awards. Jordan announced his return to the NBA on March 18, 1995 and 24 hours later played in a game against Indiana at Market Square Arena, scoring 19 points in the Bulls’ 103-96 overtime loss.

October 6, 1998 The NBA announced that all 114 preseason games for this year have been canceled because of the stalled collective bargaining negotiations with the National Basketball Players Association.


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