Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Opened Up On The Impact Bill Russell Had On His Life And Career

When it was announced by his family that Bill Russell had died at the age of 88 on Sunday, the NBA community offered their remembrances of the legend, both on and off the court.

Russell’s legacy is immense and that was evident in all the stories that poured out onto social media from players and coaches, past and present, as his presence hadn’t waned in impact over the years, with current stars just as awestruck by him as those who grew up watching him. However, those contemporaries of Russell know him better than anyone and can detail his impact in a way few others can, and there may be no one better equipped to speak on Russell than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The legendary Laker grew up idolizing Russell and entered the league the year after Russell retired from playing, picking up the mantle as the league’s next great big man. On Monday, Kareem joined ESPN’s NBA Today to speak on Russell’s legacy, both what he meant to Abdul-Jabbar personally and to the game as a whole.

For Kareem, Russell’s greatest impact was showing how he didn’t have to compromise who he was as a person to be a great athlete, while also noting that his on-court legacy will be his leadership and competitiveness that led to 11 championships, something Abdul-Jabbar says will never be matched.

Kareem also wrote a more personal remembrance of Russell on his Substack, detailing the first time he met Russell as a 14-year-old — and how it didn’t go quite as he’d hoped — as well as Russell’s leadership at the legendary Cleveland Summit, and the moments they shared together as legends and “old men” as Abdul-Jabbar put it. All of it provides a look at the many facets of Russell, a great player and activist, but also a man who lived life with incredible fervor and joy, even while the world didn’t often offer that in abundance back to him.