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Bill Russell isn’t chasing ghosts

09.14.12 at 4:06 pm ET
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The news that the great Bill Russell had recently undergone two heart procedures as reported by Peter Vecsey came as a bit of a shock, but Russell is recovering and he talked to NBA.com about that and more in a wide-ranging Q+A.

Russell explains:

    “I had a valve in my heart that had to be replaced and the way you replace it is by open-heart surgery. Well, open-heart surgery sounds difficult but this was not an emergency. It was something I had to do. The same operation in an emergency is life threatening. This was not life threatening

    They took the valve out and replaced it. It only took a couple of hours to do that. I talked to the doctors after and they said they were pleased with the procedure. They said I would be sore after a while and after that, they said I would feel better than I ever did at this point.”

Russell said that he wasn’t able to play golf or drive, depriving him of two of his favorite activities, but he added helpfully that with all that free time around the house he got to be a grouch.

He also offered his thoughts on LeBron James, the new-look Celtics and even Jeremy Lin for some reason, but there was one other part of the interview that caught my eye. When asked about the debate between the 1992 and 2012 Olympic teams he responded:

    I have this theory that it’s impossible to play against ghosts — past, present or future. That kind of discussion is for non-participants. It’s like video games. Whenever someone would ask me how I would play against this guy or that guy, I always thought that it was like playing against ghosts. Past, present and future and I never get into that discussion. You can only play against your contemporaries.

    Basketball — out of all of the sports — is the most evolving. Whoever the best player is, that’s how the game is played for a generation.

This is the best rebuttal to that particular pseudo debate that I’ve seen this summer. Not only is it self-explanatory, it also reveals a keen insight: The best player at any given time dictates the terms of the game. Whether it was Russell, Wilt, Bird, Magic or Jordan the sport belongs to them for a certain amount of time, however long or fleeting it may be. Comparing players from different eras may be an amusing diversion, but it ultimately accomplishes nothing and Russell — as we know — is all about accomplishments.

You can read the whole Q+A here.

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