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.
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.