4.18.2008

Russell: Stats are a Misleading Indicator of Value

Kevin Garnett averaged 18.8 points per game this season, his lowest scoring average since his third year in the league. On the boards, Garnett averaged 9.2 per game, his lowest number since his second year in the league.

MVP?

Yeah, right, you say.

If Kevin Garnett is not high on your list of MVP candidates, you might be curious to read what five-time NBA MVP and 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell has to say about numbers.

From early on, I realized that winning was the ultimate expression of athletic success. To win regularly, players have to subordinate their egos to the team concept. To get there, I had to get past a lot of things that weren't vital to winning, but that might make feel good or look good in the eyes of others--like taking shots.

But what about rebounds? Russell was a torrid rebounder. Those numbers mattered to him, right?

In my first year at San Francisco, the freshman team was better than the varsity team, and we showed them that every day in practice. I don't ever recall losing a scrimmage to them. One week we were scheduled to play a team with the best freshman center, and the varsity guys on my team told the coach that after this game the school would regret giving me an athletic scholarship. Determined to prove them wrong, I totally shut down my opponent. I think I grabbed 22 rebounds and blocked15 shots in the first half (though no one kept track) . The problem was our team was down by 25 points. I hadn't been playing the team game. I was just totally focused on showing everyone I was the best basketball player alive. The coach told me this in his own way, and in the second half I returned to the team game, and we whittled the lead down to 1, before losing. But the lesson had been learned. The only number that matters is the score at the end of the game.

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