Every so often, I go back and reread a book I liked a lot. Recently, I re-read a book by Bill Russell, my favorite all-time athlete, entitled Russell Rules. To me, Bill Russell is the greatest team sport athlete of all time, simply because his teams won the most championships. As a college player at the University of San Francisco, he was the star of two successive NCAA championship teams. He was a star on the 1956 Gold Medal Olympic team. As a Boston Celtic, he played for 13 seasons, and the Celtics were champions 11 of those years, including 8 in a row between 1959 and 1966. In the two years the Celtics did not win, he was injured in the championship series against the St. Louis Hawks in 1958, and lost to one of the great teams of all time, the 1966-1967 Philadelphia 76ers led by Wilt Chamberlain. Michael Jordan may or may not have had better talent as a basketball player, but even his record was not as exceptional in terms of helping his team win championships.
The reason I think Bill Russell is sometimes not rated as highly as Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, or even Shaquille O’Neill by many experts is the way he went about winning. In chapter 5 of Russell Rules, he refers to the value of “invisibility.” The way he characterizes it,
“Invisibility opens doors, creates opportunity, where none seemed to exist before. When we are unseen, we have an enormous advantage in moving in, doing things we wish or need to do, and in the process, to change the very dynamic of existing, seemingly closed, patterns.”