Dwight’s better than Russ? It’s an impossible argument | Red's Army - The Voice of Boston Celtics Fans
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Dwight’s better than Russ? It’s an impossible argument

Bill Russell is as untouchable a figure in Celtics lore as anyone is to any team's history.  Question him or his greatness and you will incur the wrath of Celtics fans far and wide.  Dare to imply that any current player can hold a candle to him and you face being stoned in the town square. 

I'm no different.  So my initial reaction to this story was to get a hearty laugh.

We’ll say it again: Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard is a more dominating defensive player than Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell.

As every season passes and every Howard blocked shot is rejected into the stands, the more I believe this bold statement made last season by Orlando Magic TV commentator Matt Guokas.

Howard on Monday became the only player in history to ever win three successive NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards, lending even more credence to what Guokas contended last year: That Howard is the greatest defensive player in NBA history.

I’ll take it a step further: Howard is not only a greater defensive force than Bill Russell, he’s a greater defensive weapon than Dick Butkus, Ozzie Smith and the double-barrell 12 gauge.

Hold on.  I'll give you a minute to pop your eyeballs back into your head and put the pitchforks and torches down.  

Ok.  Breathe.

It's impossible to compare athletes from different eras.  Right away the argument is: "look at the sheer SIZE of Dwight Howard!  He'd DOMINATE those skinny bastards!!!"  Well… sure… if you could somehow teleport Dwight back into that era.  But you can't.  So the same training methods and approaches would be what he lived by… not today's amazing advancements.  There's no chance he'd be this muscular back then.  That's not what the goal was.  He'd be a skinny 7-footer like the rest of them.  He'd look a lot like he did in high school.  That negates a huge advantage of his.

And if Bill Russell was born in this era… he'd have gone to a top-notch D-1 school with booster-funded training complexes and all of today's shakes and vitamins and regimens and off-season training gurus.  Bottom line:  Russ would be JACKED.  Maybe not Dwight-level jacked… but he'd have a lot more muscle.  Because that's what players nowadays do.  Maybe he wouldn't move as lithely…. or maybe he'd be even more vicious. 

So right away we're not even having the same argument any more.  But people won't think of things that way.  They don't want to make true comparisons.  Like… would Dwight still be the happy-go-lucky jokester after getting kicked out of restaurants on road trips because he was black?  And would Russ still be the team-first win-at-all-costs in a world of shoe deals, agents, and AAU stardom at the age of 12?  

Who knows how they'd turn out in each others' eras.  It's an impossible argument to properly have.  Is Dwight a better defender now than Russ was then?  No.  Is he about as good?  Sure.  He's as dominant a defender in this era as Russ was then.  To compare them to each other is impossible.  There are too many other factors involved.  From how basketball was played… to how it was covered… to how they traveled to and from cities… everything.  It's just too different. 

So to make a definitive statement comparing one to the other simply can't be done.  Sure, it'll start an argument and drive pageviews… but that's all that anyone will get out of it.  

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  • “as every Howard blocked shot is rejected into the stands”
    keep possession on your blocks dwight. then we’ll talk.

  • Exactly… Russell was a lot smarter, he normally went for blocks but tried to gain possession of them – not show off like an idiot and slap it out to the stands for show. Sure, there are times where it is needed, but Dwight swats at balls that are also easy to block.

  • Bill Russell INVENTED defense the way Dwight currently knows it. He fundamentally changed the way the game was played. Nobody was blocking shots before he showed up. Centers were supposed to keep their feet on the ground. His coaches actually tried to correct him when he originally started doing all of those things – blocking shots, etc. But he kept doing what he was doing. Would Dwight have changed the game the way Russell did? Who knows? But my initial reaction to the idea that Dwight is comparable in any way to Russell is KG’s favorite sentence – “Get that sh*t outta here!”

  • I know you know that this…
    ” Is he about as good? Sure. He’s as dominant a defender in this era as Russ was then. ”
    … is total crap, like most everything that ever appears on this blog. It’s just so laughable. Howard is a pretty good center in an era of very weak centers. That’s all he is. I don’t think he’s even defensive player of the year. I think Garnett clearly is. When you consider that Howard’s main claim to fame is shotblocking and he only gets two to three a game, the whole argument just collapses into a quivering heap of gelatin.
    As for Guokas, he has an axe to grind. Grind away, Matt. Keep gnawing on those old bones of resentment.
    And you too, Redsarmy. Hey, there’s not much to write about, why not dig up that whole Garnett is dirty thing AGAIN? And why not write a piece about what a scrub Perkins is? GO FOR IT!

  • It’s basically folks trying to start up the old Russell vs. Wilt argument again. They just don’t stop. It’s like the Rondo Sucks argument we keep hearing, now lately from the Knicks coach. Folks are impressed by big muscles and big numbers, even if they aren’t that big, as in this case.

  • You know…. if you hate the blog so much, you don’t have to read it.
    Like Dwight Howard or not, it’s hard to argue that he’s not a dominant post defender. I’m not going to let my bias cloud the facts.
    Russell is the greatest post defender of all time. And the argument in this whole piece is that you can’t compare the two head-to-head.
    Hey.. I’m happy that you want to come here and keep hating. It’s just more pageviews for us.

  • I’ll end this completely stupid debate here: during Russell’s era, the league didn’t keep track of blocked shots. If they did, Russell would be the all time leader by a mile. Instead, he’s not even listed.
    Also, the Defensive player of the year award is a modern era award. If it was around in the 60’s, Russell would have at least 10 of them.
    Guokas, you’re dismissed.

  • Where is Howard’s rings? Howard is good player but not even close to Russell

  • Gimme THE BEAST any day….

  • the editor must be talking in present tense..then again my money’s on mr. russell

  • Completly plausible that had Dwight played in Bills era, he wouldve been better or as good, and sorry but Russ aint winning 11 rings in todays era….in terms of legacy dwight is nothing compared to the legend himself

  • Okay, obviously none of you Bozos ever actually saw Bill Russell play defense nor did you play basketball or know anything about defense. I’m 58 years old and have blocked a lot more shots than Dwight Howard. Though it’s hard to compare generations, Dwight Howard is not even a good defender let alone comparable to the best defensive player of all time. Forget about blocked shots. Russell stopped his man from scoring (which Dwight Howard does not do), Russell didn’t block shots into the stands because that is showing off not helping your team win (didn’t any of Red’s Army ever watch Red on Roundball or read his books?!!!!). You control the block and turn it into a fast break! Russell totally dominated the key against every player who dared entered. And obviously none of you ever watched the people Russell played against. Skinny 7-footers? What the Hell are you talking about? Wilt was huge and strong as an ox. He was 4 inches taller than Dwight Howard and would have scored 200 against this beefed up power forward. Walt Bellamy was not skinny. Nate Thurmond was not skinny. Wes Unseld was not skinny. Bob Lanier was not skinny. What are you people talking about? Bill Russell was able to battle them all and drive
    his team to 11 championships in 13 seasons. This guy blocks 4 shots a game. Russell blocked 4 a quarter in his prime. If
    Dwight played in Russell’s era, he would have been a forward. Chamberlain would have had him in foul trouble in the first 4
    minutes of each game. Russell played him to a standstill and his team almost always won. How dare you suggest this ludicrous
    proposition? As Red’s Army, you have shamed yourselves. Red is turning over in his grave now. Find Red on Roundball’s
    episode on defense on youtube.com. Listen to Red talk disparagingly about Wilt swatting balls into the stands. Shame on
    anyone here who accepted this false premise for one second. Shame on you!!!

  • Hey Goober! Shut the eff up. How dare you challenge Mr Russel with 11 rings. Let me say this again 11 Rings!

  • Walt Bellamy is the man. He was, however, pretty skinny, no???
    As I watch Dwight lose in Rd. 1, I think of this argument and yawn.

  • 6’11”, 225, lol. I guess that makes him svelt. He just averaged 20 points a game and 14 rebounds.. That would make him one of the leading scoring and rebounding centers in the league now. What if I substitute later Celtics back-up for Russ, 6’8″, 240 lbs. Wayne Embry? He’s as much a challenge as Kevin Love!