Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Who was the better NBA centre?

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Who was the better NBA centre?

Kenneth Mwenda
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:06 PM

During their playing careers in the 1960s, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain developed a strong rivalry. As participants in the most renowned head-to-head rivalry in sports, their names will be forever associated with one another. They battled each other for multiple seasons. In basketball, their rivalry has never been matched. Stick around to learn more about the Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain rivalry.

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Who was the better NBA centre?
Boston Celtics player Bill Russell drives to the basket around Philadelphia 76ers player Wilt Chamberlain during a game in Boston in 1965. Photo: Dan Goshtigian
Source: Getty Images

William Felton Russell was born on February 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana, while Chamberlain was born on August 21, 1936, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When they guarded each other, which they did 94 times throughout their careers, and 49 more times in the playoffs, there was always a battle between them.

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Record

Wilt was a scoring machine with the ability to easily score 60 points or more, while Russell was a rebounding machine.

The Philadelphia-born star, who holds the record for most points scored (100) and rebounds in one game (50), may be the greatest statistical phenomenon in NBA history. According to sources, Bill Russell has also won 11 NBA championships and is frequently hailed as the greatest team sports champion.

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The latter won the NBA title 11 times ( Between 1957 and 1969), was named the league's MVP five times, and was a 12-time NBA All-Star. Chamberlain made 13 NBA All-Star appearances, four NBA MVP awards, and two NBA championships (1967, 1972).

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Stats

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Stats
Wilt Chamberlain (#13) goes up to block Bill Russell's shot during the action at Boston Garden as Tom Heinsohn (#15) & Woody Sauldsberry (#14) look on. Photo: Bettmann
Source: Getty Images

Russell played the steadfast centre of the Boston Celtics dynasty, while his rival played the athletically gifted but erratic titan. Pundits go beyond these pre-conceived notions, explaining how the two changed the way fans and players of the game interacted with and perceived the game.

In 49 playoff games over the course of his career, he averaged 24.7 rebounds, 14.9 points, and 4.9 assists against Wilt Chamberlain. However, when facing Russell in all matches, Chamberlain averaged 29.9 points and 28.1 rebounds per game.

The former Celtics' captain, in contrast, only managed 14.2 points and 22.9 rebounds per game against his opponent. However, he performed well in the playoffs, while Wilt excelled during the regular season.

Bill Russell's 14,522 Points vs Wilt Chamberlain's 31,419 Points

The Philadelphia-born star had the best claim to the title of all ime, in terms of getting the buckets. Bill Russell's point total is less than half that of his rival, Wilt Chamberlain, which speaks to both the Celtics captain's strong supporting cast and his ability to excel in his role.

But the only statistic that mattered to him was the number of championship rings, and he had more than his Philadelphia rival. All the points and rebounds Chamberlain desired were available to him. Bill only cared about championships, and he amassed more of them than any other player in NBA history.

How many times did Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell meet in the finals?

In the NBA Finals, they fought each other 12 times. Sources claim that the former Warriors' center had a 4-8 career record against Bill Russell in the NBA Finals. The NBA Finals in 1964 and 1969 served as a metaphor for Chamberlain's and Russell's careers.

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Rivalry

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Rivalry
Bill Russell of the Celtics turns a deaf ear to Wilt Chamberlain of the 76ers and has to be restrained by referee John Vanak away from Chamberlain. Photo: Bettmann
Source: Getty Images

Fans of the time and today still enjoy watching and talking about the friendly rivalry between the two, still regarded as one of the greatest in the history of professional basketball.

The Chamberlain-Russell rivalry received the same scrutiny as the one between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Few individual rivalries have existed in the NBA, but this was the first significant one before Bird vs. Magic appeared in the early 1980s.

Any time the Celtics played the Philadelphia Warriors on Thanksgiving, Russell would travel to Philadelphia the night before and stay at Wilt's house. Chamberlain insisted that he had done so six years in a row. This is what he said in 1997:

"I mean, he'd come past my house on Thanksgiving, eat my food, sleep in my bed, and the next day whip me. Now my mother would say, 'Now, Wilt, we shouldn't feed Bill so well next time."

Off the court, there was also a financial rivalry between the two centers. Russell threatened to retire unless the Boston Celtics gave him $1 more than his rival when Chamberlain agreed to a three-year, $100,000 deal with the 76ers in 1965. He was later awarded the offer and became the highest-paid player in the NBA with a new contract of $100,001.

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Who has more rings?

Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain: Who has more rings?
Celtics' Bill Russell (R) checks 76ers' Wilt Chamberlain (L) during an Eastern NBA Final playoffs at the Boston Garden. Photo: Bettmann
Source: Getty Images

Although Chamberlain only won two rings, he broke almost every NBA record ever set. Russell has 11 rings but not as many awards as Chamberlain, or even close to as many.

So who is the greatest center in NBA history? Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell?

The Celtics' captain was the league's best defensive center at the time, and it was his efforts on the glass and his leadership that always sealed the victory. Despite being surrounded by many Hall of Famers, Russell was unquestionably the driving force behind the remarkable Celtics Dynasty that lasted 12 years.

It's ridiculous to win 11 rings in 12 years, and Wilt isn't even close. As the team's best player, Chamberlain was only able to win a championship with the Warriors before winning another with the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bill will be the superior player if you only care about winning. On the other side, no player in history has ever been able to compile points and rebounds in the manner that Wilt could, so regardless of rings—which are also a team accomplishment—Wilt may be the better individual player. Wilt and Russell are matched up across their careers for the purposes of this career comparison, with personal preference serving as the sole barometer of who is the better center.

When did Wilt Chamberlain die?

Chamberlain suffered from cardiovascular disease for a while. He spent a short time in the hospital in 1992 due to an irregular heartbeat. In 1999, his health worsened.

On October 12, 1999, he died in Bel Air, Los Angeles, at the age of 63. His agent Sy Goldberg revealed that he died of congestive heart failure.

Bill Russell is still alive. As of July 2022, commenting on Wilt Chamberlain's death, he said:

"The fierceness of our competition bonded us together for eternity."

Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell both had incredible careers in their respective eras. However, let us come to the conclusion that Bill was simply your man if you wanted a team player who doesn't care about stats and does whatever it takes to win the game.

On the other hand, Wilt was your man if you wanted a point-scoring machine, an unstoppable force, and all you could do was pass the ball to him constantly.

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Kenneth Mwenda
Kenneth Mwenda is a business and sports writer with over five years of experience. At Sportsbrief, he contributes to writing biographies and listicles.