Russell would never go there. He had, and has, nothing but the utmost respect for Wilt Chamberlain, who impressed him from the get-go.
“After I played him for the first time,” Russell says, “I said, ‘Let’s see. He’s four or five inches taller. He’s 40 or 50 pounds heavier. His vertical leap is at least as good as mine. He can get up and down the floor as well as I can. And he’s smart. The real problem with all this is that I have to show up!”
His appreciation grew with each passing year. By 1962, the third year of their rivalry, their teams would meet for the Eastern Conference championship. Wilt was pluperfectly monstrous that season, averaging a record 50.4 points per game. The series went seven games, with Russell and friends able to keep the Big Dipper under some kind of control. (In 12 playoff games that year, Wilt averaged 35 points and 27 rebounds.) A Sam Jones jumper with two seconds remaining won the seventh game by a 109-107 score, and Russell (19 points and 26 rebounds a game) immediately requested to be left alone for awhile.
“I haven’t had any sleep all week,” he said. “Every time I went out on the court, that guy seemed to grow a little taller.”