Bill Russell Believes Debating About Olympic Teams From Different Eras is Useless, as Teams Cannot ‘Play Against Ghosts’

Bill Russell Believes Debating About Olympic Teams From Different Eras is Useless, as Teams Cannot 'Play Against Ghosts'The U.S. men's basketball team dominated the Olympics this summer, drawing comparisons between the 2012 version and the legendary 1992 "Dream Team." NBA legend — and 1956 gold medalist — Bill Russell is not interested in the comparison between Olympic teams — or any comparison between teams from different eras, really.

Russell was very impressed with the 2012 team, he told NBA.com, and thought by the end of the tournament they were a better team than they were at the beginning. But better than the '92 squad?

"I have this theory that it's impossible to play against ghosts — past,
present or future," said Russell, after saying he was recovering well from a heart procedure last month. "That kind of discussion is for non-participants. It's
like video games. Whenever someone would ask me how I would play
against this guy or that guy, I always thought that it was like playing
against ghosts. Past, present and future and I never get into that
discussion. You can only play against your contemporaries."

Russell tears down one of America's favorite pastimes — comparing generations of sports — in one well-crafted metaphor. He breaks down the evolution of the sport by position and how the best players dictate the way the game is played at any point in time.

"The game is dictated by centers. You had [George] Mikan, Wilt [Chamberlain], Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar]," said Russell. "Then you
build off that with the forwards, Elgin [Baylor], Larry Bird. Then there is
Michael [Jordan] and the guards.

"Each era produces a style of play. For someone to say this style of play
is better than this style of play, that person doesn't know what they
are talking about. So, I never get into that discussion."

But what about his 1956 team from Sydney? Would that get him into the discussion?

That team — which was made up entirely of amatuer players and was the precursor to the well-documented 1960 team — won every game by an average of 53.5 points en route to a gold medal.

"I don't know," said Russell, calmly refusing to take the bait. "We just went out and tried to win each game by the
biggest margin that we could. But the game has evolved so much since
then."

The game has envolved quite a bit in the last 56 years and it seems as though the next change of direction is in the works. Tall, athletic combo players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant have taken the torch from Kobe Bryant and the Jordan/guard era and are headed toward a decade of dominance.

Photo via Flickr/ntisocl

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