The NBA just celebrated its 75th anniversary last season, which shows that the league is much younger than most major sports leagues in the world. As a result, most of the game’s legends are still around and allow young players to get first-hand advice from them.
Bill Russell was the most legendary player of the 60s and dominated the league winning 11 championships in 13 years. He also won 5 NBA MVP awards in his time, proving that his defensive prowess is something that could catapult him to MVP status despite never averaging more than 19 points per season.
Russell died yesterday and became just the 5th MVP in NBA history to pass away. The first to do so was Wilt Chamberlain in 1999, followed by Moses Malone in 2015, Kobe Bryant and Wes Unseld in 2020, and now Russell in 2022. They are legends of the game and it is heartbreaking to know that they do not. are not. among us anymore.
Chamberlain won 4 NBA MVP awards during his career, the first in 1960 when he also won Rookie of the Year. Chamberlain would then win 3 consecutive MVPs from 1966 to 1968, embroiled in an iconic rivalry with Russell. he averaged over 20 rebounds in all those seasons, with 2 seasons where he also scored over 30 points. He won all of his MVPs as part of the San Francisco/Philadelphia Warriors (now Golden State Warriors). Wilt died of congestive heart failure in October 1999.
Like Chamberlain, Wes Unseld also won MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season in 1969, ending Wilt’s streak of 3 straight NBA MVP awards that season. The Baltimore Bullets (now Washington Wizards) star averaged 13.8 points and 18.2 rebounds that season. Unseld passed away in June 2020 and his cause of death has not been revealed, although the legendary player had several health issues at the time of his passing.
Moses Malone won 3 MVP awards during his career, the first in 1979 when he played for the Houston Rockets. He averaged 25.8 points and 14.5 rebounds that season. He would win consecutive MVPs in 1982 with the Rockets and in 1983 with the Philadelphia 76ers. In 1982, Moses averaged over 31 points while recording 14.7 rebounds. In 1983, his freshman year for the 76ers, Moses averaged 24.5 points and 15.3 rebounds. Malone died in his sleep in September 2015 of heart disease.
Kobe Bryant has only won one MVP award in his career and that season was in 2008 with the LA Lakers. He averaged 28.3 points, 1.8 steals, 5.4 assists and 6.3 rebounds that season. Bryant should have won more MVP awards in his career, but lost a few to Steve Nash after Nash’s historic impact on the Phoenix Suns in those years. At least Kobe was able to knock them out for the Playoffs those years. Bryant passed away heartbreakingly in January 2020 in a helicopter crash.
Only 5 former MVPs who have passed away so far is pretty incredible considering there are still plenty of older players who are still around and inspiring the next generation of basketball. The oldest former MVP to still be around is Bob Cousy at the age of 93. There are other players 80 or older who are still with us in Bob Pettit (89), Oscar Robertson (83) and Willis Reed (80),
The NBA isn’t as old a league as many would assume considering how lucky fans have been to see most of the sport’s legends still around. Russell was probably one of the game’s most beloved legends due to his public contact appearances, including presenting the Finals MVP trophy.
Hopefully this sad list won’t see any more names added in the near future.