Bob Ryan: ‘Bill Russell Is The Greatest American Team-Sport Athlete Of All Time’
Bob Ryan covered 11 consecutive Olympics – from Barcelona to London – and was always willing, as John Feinstein observed, to “get away from the glamorous events” and “cover a Nordic skier.”
So, how closely is Ryan, 67, following the Olympics from home this year? And how hard is it to be like the rest of us – a spectator?
“(I’m watching it) possibly more than I realized I would,” The Boston Globe columnist said on The John Feinstein Show. “My wife is into it, so we’re watching a lot of stuff together, so I’m enjoying it. I’m having a good time.
“Do I miss it?” Ryan continued. “I miss the places I went to. I’m not sure I’d miss Sochi, but I was spoiled right off the bat. The two best Olympics I ever covered were the first two – Barcelona and Lillehammer.”
Barcelona hosted the 1992 Summer Games, while Lillehammer hosted the 1994 Winter Games.
“I will always remember Lillehammer,” Ryan said. “It was the perfect Winter Olympics – the perfect setting, the perfect level of competition. Everything was out of a fairy tale.
“I’m very content. I kind of pulled back for a reason, and I’m very content with my decision, and I have no great yearning to be in Sochi.”
Feinstein, who has also covered the Olympics, said the only thing he doesn’t like as a spectator is sometimes knowing the result of an event before watching it on television. Ryan doesn’t have that same problem – with most sports, anyway.
“However far we go in hockey, I certainly want to watch that live. That’s different,” he said. “But for the most part, I’m okay. I’m not bothered by it.”
Feinstein has also wondered why Americans haven’t seemed too interested or invested in the Olympics – T.J. Oshie heroics notwithstanding.
“It’s well-established that we’re having a disappointing Olympics in a lot of ways, and we’re being saved from complete humiliation by the X-Game people. I think maybe that has something to do with it,” Ryan said. “But I’m never surprised when the issue is the parochialism of Americans – whether it’s sports or politics, (it) doesn’t shock me at all. We are a frighteningly and disturbingly parochial nation. We are insular and xenophobic. We are not interested in other people as much as we should be. If the heroes are from some other country, we’re not interested as much. I’m never surprised by the fact that Americans are only interested in Americans.”
Elsewhere in the sports world, Ryan discussed LeBron James and the Mount Rushmore debate.
“No. 1, I love it,” Ryan said. “I wrote a piece in Basketball Times last year where I gave a Mount Rushmore for all 30 NBA teams. Now, I’m going to tell you: You know what team took me longer than the other 29 put together? The Charlotte Bobcats.”
That, for obvious reasons, is hilarious.
“The problem with basketball is you can’t have one Rushmore because this whole center discussion clouds everything,” Ryan continued. “You need two. You need a non-center Rushmore and a center Rushmore – because if you’re going to have a Rushmore including centers, you’re going to have three centers (and one other position player) on there. Nobody’s going to like that.”
Those players, if you’re curious, would be Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Jordan.
For a center-specific Rushmore, Ryan would take the three aforementioned big men, along with Hakeem Olajuwon.
Ryan was a huge fan of James’ Mount Rushmore, which included Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as the top three. James’ fourth was Oscar Robertson. Ryan was okay with that, though he did say he would give Jerry West and Kobe Bryant consideration.
“I think LeBron got it 100 percent correct,” Ryan said. “I think that clearly Michael, Magic and Larry are unassailable (as) the first three guys on any non-center Rushmore. I think it’s a great discussion. It’s fun.”
Russell, it is worth noting, said he was happy he was left off James’ Mount Rushmore – even though Russell has what Ryan called “the greatest resume in the history of American sport.” It includes two high school state titles, two NCAA national titles, 11 NBA titles and an Olympic gold medal.
Russell also played in 21 win-or-go-home games in his career. His record in those games? 21-0.
“Russell is the greatest American team-sport athlete of all time,” Ryan said. “Period.”