Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are Hall of Fame centers whose careers helped pave the way for the modern NBA. But what most don’t know is they were also the prototype for the activist athlete. Their stories will be more fully told in Big Men, coming from Scott Koondell’s Sox Entertainment in partnership with Josh Shapiro’s Ideal Entertainment.
“I’m beyond excited about our limited series Big Men,” Koondel said in a statement. “The relationship of the late Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain was unlike any other rivalry in sports because of the time they lived in and when the NBA was not the NBA we know today. This story has never been told before and it will be done through the proper lens.”
Former L.A. Lakers star Norm Nixon will be a consulting producer on the series.
The two-season, 16-episode series will cover the men’s lives on and off the court. Russell, who died at the age of 88 in July, played center for the Boston Celtics for 13 years. During that time, they won 11 championships with Russell as a player and then as player/coach becoming the first Black head coach in any major U.S. sports league. A five-time MVP and seven-time All-Star, Russell was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1975.
While LeBron James and Michael Jordan compete for the title of the NBA’s greatest of all time, Wilt Chamberlain remains the only basketball player in NBA history to score 100 points in a game. Chamberlain was a two-time NBA champion, four-time league MVP, and 13-time NBA All-Star who played for 14 seasons for four different teams, including his hometown Philadelphia 76ers. He and Russell were each other’s main competitors during their time in the league but became good friends.
Russell had the edge over Chamberlain in championships, but Chamberlain’s individual NBA records included scoring, rebounding and durability.
The men were activists in different ways off the court. Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and other athletes of the era were outspoken on race relations in a similar vein of some of today’s NBA superstars. They attended the famous Muhammad Ali “Cleveland Summit” in 1967 to support Ali after he refused to report for military service in Vietnam.
Despite his success as a Boston Celtic in racially-divided Boston, Russell was embittered about the racism he experienced in his life and career. He didn’t attend his enshrinement ceremony in the Basketball Hall of Fame because he would be the first Black player so honored.
Chamberlain’s racial legacy is much more complex, as he rarely spoke about race publicly until after the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. When he did speak up, it was to campaign for Black votes for Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon, who would become the first president in U.S. history to resign due to the Watergate scandal. Chamberlain was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1978. He died of congestive heart failure in 1999 at the age of 63.
No casting has yet been announced.