Bill Russell presented Ben Wallace with Wallace's fourth Defensive Player of the Year trophy in five years last night. Afterward, Russell had some interesting comments about any comparisons between he and Wallace. From the Oakland Press:
"When I was playing, I was innovative," he said. "I didn't have a teacher. When you see the game these guys are playing is where I left off. In high school, I'd never seen anybody block a shot. Conventional wisdom at the time was that no good defensive player ever leaves his feet. I had to fight to be able to do that."
Russell does have a lot of respect for what Wallace brings to the game. He calls him the key performer on the Pistons.
"He has an enormous impact because he's the foundation of Detroit, and this is a defensive team," Russell said. "It's like a ripple effect. Because he's so effective, he allows his teammates to be effective. The impact is multiplied."
Russell is a proud man, and given all that he accomplished in his career -- five-time MVP, 12-time All-Star, 11 NBA titles -- he's obviously entitled to be so. The man averaged 22.5 rebounds per game over his entire career, and it's a shame they didn't track blocked shots back when he played because that total would likely be even more ridiculous.
Wallace, meanwhile, is humbled by any comparisons to Russell. From MLive.com:
"It means a lot because people say he's the game's best defensive player ever, and he's got more (championship) rings than anybody," Wallace said. "It's more surprising and humbling that people are comparing me to him than the fact that I just won this for the fourth time."
But even if we can't make a direct comparison to Russell, Wallace clearly plays the closest thing in league to his game today. Dikembe Mutombo is the only other person with four Defensive Player of the Year trophies on his mantle, and a fifth will at least put Wallace in the conversation for the Basketball Hall of Fame, if he's not already there. Not too bad for a player passed over by everyone in the NBA the first few years of his career.