One constant criticism of Bill Russell is that his impact is generally overrated at the expense of his all-star teammates. “Russell always played with 6 Hall of Famers,” say the naysayers. “Of course he kept on winning.”
In my research, Russell kept winning because he was often the best basketball player on the court. Contemporaries recognized this by awarding him 5 MVP awards (many over Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Oscar Robertson).
Here are all of Bill Russell’s teammates who made an All-Star team (All-NBA team in parentheses). I’ve included the team’s SRS after the year as well:
- 1957: (4.79 SRS) Bob Cousy (1st), Bill Sharman (1st), Tom Heisohn,
- 1958: (5.03 SRS) Cousy (1st), Sharman (1st)
- 1959: (5.84 SRS) Cousy (1st), Sharman (1st)
- 1960: (7.62 SRS) Cousy (1st), Sharman (2nd)
- 1961: (4.93 SRS) Cousy (1st), Heinsohn (2nd)
- 1962: (8.25 SRS) Cousy (2nd), Heinsohn, Sam Jones
- 1963: (6.38 SRS) Cousy (2nd), Heinsohn
Let’s pause there, as this was Bob Cousy’s last year and everyone assumed the “old” Celtics would struggle in 1964 without Cousy. (They would go on to be one of the 13 most dominant teams ever by one metric.) Tom Heinsohn was a gunner, never meeting a shot he didn’t like and firing away at inefficient percentages. There were few statistics back then, not many games on TV, and the game certainly wasn’t examined under a microscope the way it is today. As a result, many people overstate how valuable Cousy’s offense was to the Celtics. While he was a magician, he also ran an offense that was rarely even average, and often near the bottom of the league in efficiency. By all accounts, the Celtics were winning with defense. This would become crystal clear in the ensuing seasons.
- 1964: (6.93 SRS) Heinsohn (2nd), Havlicek (2nd – Not an all-star though), Jones
- 1965: (7.47 SRS) Jones (2nd), Heinsohn
- 1966: (4.34 SRS) Jones (2nd), Havlicek (2nd)
- 1967: (7.24 SRS) Jones (2nd), Havlicek, Bailey Howell
- 1968: (3.87 SRS) Havlicek (2nd), Jones
- 1969: (5.35 SRS) Havlicek (2nd)
First, note that the only year in this stretch in which Boston didn’t win the title was 1967, with 3 All-Star teammates. So already this isn’t the greatest indicator of team strength. The Celtics were well built, with depth and balanced, regardless of No. of all-stars. With that said, this isn’t exactly a team, at any point in these 13 years, littered with All-Stars while the rest of the NBA quivered in fear.
The rest of the NBA did quiver in fear of William Felton Russell, and it was only when he was out of the lineup could teams attack Boston and no longer fear his interior defense. To bookend this summary, look at the year before Russell arrived and the year he left, same format as above:
1956: (0.72 SRS) Cousy (1st), Ed McCauley
1970: (-1.60 SRS) Havlicek (2nd)