Not So Trivial Pursuits

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

What High School fielded a basketball team which boasted a future NBA M.V.P., a future National League M.V.P., a future American League M.V.P., a future NBA Champion, and a future World Series Champion?

Answer: In 1955, Oakland, California's McClymonds High School suited up a basketball team that included future Hall of Famers Bill Russell and Frank Robinson. Robinson won two World Series Championships with the Baltimore Orioles, and he is the only player ever to win the M.V.P. Award in both the National and American Leagues. He also won Major League Baseball's coveted Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average, home runs, and R.B.I.'s all in the same season. When he retired in 1976, he was number four on the all-time home run list; presently, he is number ten.

As impressive as Robinson's storied career is, the most amazing thing about it is that among his McClymonds High Basketball teammates, he plays second fiddle to one William Felton Russell. With 11 NBA Championships and five NBA M.V.P. Awards, he is the winningest professional athlete in North American history. Along with his myriad N.B.A. rebounding and shot blocking records, he won back to back N.C.A.A. Titles with the University of San Francisco, and an Olympic Gold Medal. Because of Russell's dominant play around the basket, the N.C.A.A. decided to widen the key. UCLA coach John Wooden called Russell "the greatest defensive man I've ever seen". Don Nelson, the winningest coach in N.B.A. history had this to say about his former teammate with the Boston Celtics, "There are two types of superstars. One makes himself look good at the expense of the other guys on the floor. But there's another type who makes the players around him look better than they are, and that's the type Russell was."

Today when fans debate who are the greatest players of all time, often Russell's achievements and those of his piers are discounted because modern players are considered to be more athletic. Well if you have any questions about Russell's athleticism, think again. Bill Russell was a world class athlete who also competed in track and field. When the Boston Celtics drafted him in 1956, Track and Field News ranked him as the seventh best high jumper in the world, even though he did not compete in that year's Olympic Games. To dispel any doubts about Russell's athleticism on the hardwood, check out the video below.

September's Question: Only two players in history have won an NBA Championship, a EuroLeague Championship, and an Olympic Gold Medal in basketball. As mentioned in this newsletter, one of those players is the NBA legend and Argentine national treasure, Manu Ginóbili. Who is the other player?

Answer to September's question: In his junior year at Princeton, Senator Bill Bradley won an Olympic Gold Medal playing with the U.S. Men's Basketball Team. He was the team's youngest player and its only undergraduate. Upon graduating magnum cum laude , he delayed his NBA carreer, opting to attend Oxford for two years after being named a Rhodes Scholar. During his tenure at Worcester College, he commuted to Italy, and played for Olympia Milano which won the European Champions Cup in the 1965-66 season. After a brief stint in the U.S. Air Force, Bradley landed with the New York Knicks, and with the franchise, he won NBA Championships in 1970 and 1973. In his senior year at Princeton in 1964, he led the Tigers to the NCAA's Final Four where they lost to Michigan. Although he was awarded the Final Four's MVP, the final jewel in basketball's crown, an NCAA Championship eluded him. Bradley's Princeton coach, Butch Van Breda Kolff said of him, "Others can run faster and jump higher. The self-discipline." When practicing, it was Bradley's habit not to move from a location on the court unless he made at least ten of 13 shots.