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The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball Paperback – September 26, 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Taylor (The Count and the Confession) offers a vivid account of the fledgling days of the National Basketball Association and the intense competition between two of its biggest early stars: Bill Russell (of the Boston Celtics) and Wilt Chamberlain (of the Philadelphia 76ers). While both players were dominant men who anchored their respective teams, their personalities differed greatly. The quiet, reflective Russell turned a serendipitous showing in front of a scout into a legendary career largely through willpower and hard work, while the outgoing Chamberlain was a much more naturally gifted athlete whose skills drew attention and offers while he was barely a teenager. Taylor highlights this distinction, asking, "[C]ould determination trump talent?" Along with examining the physical and psychological battles between the two, Taylor depicts the NBA's raucous nature in the 1950s and '60s, when fights between players were frequent, and the brash Celtics coach Red Auerbach was routinely pelted with rotten tomatoes, lit cigars and eggs. Looking at everything, from each player's private demons to the racially charged era in which they competed, Taylor's book is by turns an intimate profile and a spirited look at the foundation of modern professional basketball.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Few individual rivalries in sports match the legendary mano-a-mano basketball duels between Boston Celtic Bill Russell and the much-traveled Wilt Chamberlain. Russell led his team to 11 championships in 13 seasons, and while Chamberlain's teams won 2 titles, only once was he part of a championship team while Russell was active. Chamberlain became the poster child for individual accomplishment--he scored 100 points in a single game--but Russell, 35 years after his retirement, still epitomizes the ultimate winner, the teammate for the ages. Taylor, author of The Count and the Confession (2002), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, was initially drawn to the subject because, like much of his work, it dealt with the psychology of conflict. But as he interviewed many of those involved on the periphery of his subject--Russell declined to participate and Chamberlain is dead--he realized he had a potentially larger canvas. The rivalry coincided with--and accelerated--the NBA's metamorphosis from a relatively minor league to the media giant it's become today. It also produced two of the most celebrated black sports superstars in the post-Jackie Robinson era and in that context advanced race relations in America. While placing the rivalry in historical context, Taylor shows that Wilt wanted to win every bit as much as Russell but never quite understood, as Russell did, how to sublimate his ego for the betterment of the team. A serious work of sports history, this volume compares favorably with the best works of John Feinstein and David Halberstam on sports. Wes Lukowsky
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (September 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812970306
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812970302
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #492,882 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The funny thing about "The Rivalry," is that you don't have to be a huge basketball fan to really enjoy this book. You don't even have to like basketball. Although my dad (a huge basketball fan) gave this book to me (we spent years watching basketball on television and going to Knicks games when I was a kid), and I thought I knew all about Russell and Chamberlain (I didn't!), Taylor has written an amazing book of an important part of sports history. And "The Rivalry" is not just about basketball history, but about competition, winning and "the game." My sister will get the book next!
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"The Rivalry" recounts the on-court battles between Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, the two greatest basketball centers/players from the Sixties. Bill Russell was the first black superstar in the NBA, and Chamberlain followed him into the league three years later. Chamberlain is regarded by many people as the greatest player of all time and still holds many records. His talent was so great, his teams were expected to win numerous titles. Russell transformed his team, the Boston Celtics, into a powerhouse which won eleven titles in the thirteen years Russell played in the league...a record that has never been approached since. A number of those victories came at the expense of Chamberlain's teams who either lost to the Celtics in the semis or the finals numerous times. There was a reason Russell's Celtics beat Chamberlain's team numerous times...they were usually a better team. But although Wilt's teams only beat the Celtics once in those thirteen years, they came within a whisker four or five times.
As I'm a huge basketball fan (and a huge Chamberlain fan), I saw many of those games when they were televised during that era. Up to and beyond his playing days, Chamberlain has usually been depicted as a statistics-dominated loser whose teams lost because Wilt was a selfish player. The fact is, the Celtics for the first six years of the rivalry were just a better team. But after going over the different seasons and series where the Celtics invariably emerged as champions, it became very apparent to me that although I don't believe in luck, there's no way that era could be repeated with the same players and the Celtics winning that many titles. If repeated, the Celtics probably would have won only six or seven times, which would still be an incredible statistic.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This appears to be a thorough, thoughtful examination of the Russell-Chamberlain rivalry and what it did for pro basketball (much as Bird-Magic would do years later), but its sloppiness makes its accuracy on any given anecdote suspect. Given that some of the inaccuracy involves some of the better-known, most easily researched moments -- mistakes that literally jump out for their amatuerishness -- I went from initially being fascinated by Taylor's compilation of behind-the-scenes insights to wondering whether I could trust any of it.

Here are some examples that came to mind as I read The Rivalry:

* Taylor's depiction of one of the most celebrated shots in NBA history, Don Nelson's desperation foul-line set shot that bounced freakishly high off the rim before falling through the net just as the Lakers were making their Game 7 comeback in 1969, is available from many film sources, and yet Taylor gets it all wrong. He say Keith Erickson "blocked a shot" and Nelson "recovered" the ball, when in fact, Erickson clearly reached from behind Havlicek in an attempt to steal the ball and poked it loose. The ball went directly to Nelson's hands some 10 feet away as if it were a pass (yet another freakish twist to the play) -- Nelson didn't "recover" the ball, he had it plop into his open hands like a gift from the basketball gods.

* Taylor correctly depicts Sam Jones' rattling game-winner triple-pick jumper on the "Ohio" play that pulled out Game 4 for the Celtics in the first telling, but later in the book refers to it as having happened in Game 5. Did anyone edit the book or even proof it? This is basic stuff, folks, and if you can't trust the simple things to be accurate, can you trust Taylor's accuracy on the more sophisticated events described in the book?
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Format: Hardcover
Rather than reading a biography of Red Auerbach, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell, turn to this period book! Here you get everything: a complete portrayal of the situation of African American who were just starting to segregate professional sports outside of the Brooklyn Dodgers. But at the same time it is an introduction to a time, when athletes were not the superstars of today.

On top of that, you get enough biographcal information on Russell and Chamberlain, but also on Cousy, Auerbach and many others.

The book is very well written and starts right with information, no tedious introduction to plough through.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wilt Chamberlain is statistically the greatest basketball player who ever lived. Bill Russell has eleven rings meaning he won eleven championships in the thirteen years he played. Wilt once averaged 50.4 points in the same season he averaged 25.7 rebounds. Bill Russell never averaged more than 18.9 points per game but was surrounded by so many Hall-of-Famers, it's a wonder they lost at all. Wilt averaged 22.9 REBOUNDS for his career. Russell averaged 22.5 REBOUNDS for his career. In the 2012-3 season, the leading rebounder was Dwight Howard who averaged 12.4 rebounds per game. Wilt never averaged LESS than 18.2 rebounds per game and had ten seasons where he averaged 21.1 or more (with a high of 27.2). Russell never averaged LESS than 18.6 rebounds per game and had ten seasons where he averaged 21.0 or more (with a high of 24.7). When Wilt had good players around him, his teams won championships. More often, Wilt was called on to improve an area of the team that wouldn't normally be touched by a center. For example, in 1967-68, Wilt led the league in assists with 702 assists. The NBA leader in 2012-13 was Greivis Vasquez had 704 assists.

The bottom line is that the NBA was dominated from the late 1950's through the early 1970's by these two giants. In the history of the game, only Magic v Bird compares.

Head-to-Head Numbers:
Wilt and Russell played against each other 142 times in 10 years. Russell's team won 88, Wilt's teams won 54.
In those games Wilt averaged 28.7 ppg and 28.7 rpg, Russell averaged 14.5ppg and 23.7rpg
Wilt's high game vs. Russell was 62, and he had six other 50+ point games against Russell. Russell's high game against Wilt was 37, and he had only two other 30+ point games against Wilt.
Wilt's record 55 rebound game was against Russell, and he had six other 40+ rebound games vs. Bill. Russell only had one 40+ rebound night against Wilt.
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