Bill Russell Tells Basketball Greats, “I Would Kick Your Ass.”

This man is a legend for now and always.

Even if you’re five of the most successful centers in basketball history, Bill Russell would still “kick your ass.”

That is exactly what Russell, the 83-year-old Celtics legend and spirited smack talker, said at the 2017 NBA Awards last night.

“Where did they find all these tall people?” he asked, shaking hands with the stars on stage with him—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, Shaquille O’Neal, and David Robinson. Then the 11-time champion pointed at each of the Hall of Famers one-by-one, declaring, “I would kick your ass.”

The audience lost it, and many were calling it the line of the night.

He was just messing around, obviously, and immediately after the trash talk he thanked the players. “You have no idea how much respect I have for you guys,” he said. “You made me proud to have played the same game as you.”

Russell was accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award at the first awards ceremony for the NBA in New York, hosted by Drake. The Lifetime Achievement honor, by the way, is named, fittingly, after Bill Russell.


Spencer Buell Staff Writer at Boston Magazine sbuell@bostonmagazine.com