A vote for GOAT who's not LeBron or Jordan

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Aug. 6—Before there was the modern day GOAT discussion there was Andy and Barney's neighborhood goat which, honestly, should have ended the discussion.

How can any goat that swallows dynamite and survives not be the greatest of all time?

Still the discussion rages on social media, often framed with NBA players and with LeBron James and Michael Jordan as the leading contenders.

Neither gets Bailey Howell's vote.

Talk like this is great for social media clicks but can't be taken seriously. There are too many factors that make comparing different eras of play near impossible.

There is a shrinking number of NBA fans who saw the things Bill Russell did on a basketball court, much less witnessed them live and was an active participant in many of the same exploits.

"He was the most valuable player that ever walked on the court," Howell said.

Howell, a Mississippi State All-American in the late 1950s who went on to a 12-year NBA career, played four years with Russell and the Boston Celtics.

Russell died last week at the age of 88.

In a 13-year career with the Celtics, Russell was a part of 11 championship teams including eight-straight at one point.

For the last two championships, he was also the head coach as he served as player-coach and was on the floor for more than 40 minutes most nights.

He held that role for three seasons, the first being the same season Howell arrived after a trade with Baltimore.

Russell was a five-time MVP, a 12-time all-star and an 11-time All-NBA selection either first or second team.

A 6-foot-10 center, he averaged 15.1 points and shot 44 percent for his career.

But it was his rebounding and defensive tenacity for which he was best known.

"He had 41-inch sleeves. His arms extended so long," Howell said. "He had great athleticism, great timing and was a very good leaper. He was the best defensive center and rebounder the game has ever witnessed."

Players like that make the guys around them even more confident.

For Howell, that meant he could go all out defensively, get up in his opponent's face and not worry about giving up a layup with a quick step and dash to the rim.

"When that happened, Bill was always there," Howell said.

Russell was also known for his social activism during America's contentious 1960s.

He was part of a boycott of an NBA exhibition game in Lexington, Ky., after two black teammates were denied service at a local coffee shop in 1961.

In 1963 Howell was getting ready for his fifth season with Detroit, which drafted him with the No. 2 pick in 1959, when Russell conducted an integrated youth basketball camp in Jackson in response to the shooting of civil rights leader Medgar Evers in June of that year.

"It was just something I felt I had to do," Russell told The Seattle Times in 2011.

Russell received death threats while in Jackson. In the South in the 1960s, he was playing with a different kind of dynamite than the Mayberry goat.

Russell's social stance was not a divisive issue for the Celtics, Howell said.

"It was all about basketball, winning basketball games and winning titles if we could. That was the focus," he said.

Howell, a six-time all-star, averaged 16.3 points and 8.1 rebounds for his career.

After a four-year run in Boston, he played one season in Philadelphia before retiring.

"It was the best time of my career, with the Celtics of course," says Howell, 85, who has lived in Starkville for many years. "I was able to play on two NBA championship teams. Everybody wants to win that ring. It would have been nice to spend my whole career there."

PARRISH ALFORD is the college sports editor and columnist for the Daily Journal. Contact him at parrish.alford@journalinc.com.