Bill Russell, a cornerstone of the Boston Celtics dynasty that won eight consecutive titles and 11 overall titles during his career, died on Sunday. The Hall of Famer was 88.
Russell died “peacefully” with his wife Janine at his side, Read a statement posted on social media. According to the statement, arrangements for his memorial service will be announced soon.
But despite all the winners, Bell’s understanding of struggle is what has illuminated his life. From boycotting a 1961 show game to exposing longstanding discrimination, to leading Mississippi’s first integrated basketball camp in the aftermath of flammable Medgar. [Evers’] The assassination, to decades of activism eventually recognized by his receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom…Bill advocated injustice with ruthless frankness intended to disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example, though never his humble intent, would forever inspire action Collective, self-denial, and deliberate change.
“Bill’s wife, Jennine, and many of his friends and family thank you for keeping Bill in your prayers. Perhaps you’ll live once or two of the golden moments he gave us, or remember his special laugh and are delighted to explain the true story behind how those moments unfolded. We hope that all of us can Finding a new way to act or speak with Belle’s relentless, generous and always constructive commitment to principle. It will be the last and lasting win for our beloved #6.”
– TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) July 31, 2022
For 15 years, beginning in his junior year at the University of San Francisco, Russell had the best career of any player in team sports history. At USF, he was a two-time All-American, won two consecutive NCAA Championships and led the team to 55 consecutive wins. He won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.
During his 13 years in Boston, he carried the Celtics to the NBA Finals 12 times, winning the championship 11 times.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Russell described him as “the greatest champion in all of collegiate sports” in a statement on Sunday.
“I cherished my friendship with Bill and was thrilled when he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. I often called him basketball player Babe Ruth because he was out of time. Bale was the ultimate winner and outstanding teammate, and his impact on the NBA will be forever visible,” said Silver .
A five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star, Russell was a superb blocker who revolutionized defensive concepts in the NBA. He finished his career with 21,620 rebounds – an average of 22.5 per game – and led the league in rebounding four times. He has 51 rebounds in one game and 49 in two other games and has scored 12 consecutive seasons with 1,000 or more rebounds. Russell also averaged 15.1 points and 4.3 assists per game over the course of his career.
Until the exploits of Michael Jordan in the 1990s, Russell was considered by many to be the greatest player in NBA history.
Russell was awarded the Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2011, the nation’s highest civilian honor. And in 2017, the National Basketball Association gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award.
William Felton Russell was born on February 12, 1934 in Monroe, Louisiana. His family moved to the Bay Area, where he attended McClemmonds High School in Auckland. He was an awkward and unremarkable position on the McLemonds basketball team, but his size earned him a scholarship to San Francisco, where he thrived.
Russell told The New York Times in 2011. “I was innovative. I started blocking shots even though I had never seen shots before. A good defensive player leaves his feet.”
Russell did it anyway, teaming up with guard KC Jones to lead the Dons to 55 consecutive wins and national titles in 1955 and 1956. (Jones missed four games in the 1956 championship because his eligibility had expired). Best player in 1955. Then he led the US basketball team to victory in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.
With the 1956 NBA draft approaching, Celtics coach and general manager Reed Auerbach was eager to add Russell to his squad. Auerbach built a high-grade attacking machine around guards Bob Cozy and Bill Sharman and junior quarterback Ed McCauley but they believed the Celtics lacked the defense and rebound needed to turn them into a club of championship caliber. Auerbach felt that Russell was the missing piece in the puzzle.
After the St. Louis Hawks selected Russell in the draft, Auerbach designed a trade to land Russell for Ed McCauley.
The Boston five starters from Russell, Tommy Heinson, Cozy, Sharman and Jim Loskutoff were a high-octane unit. The Celtics set an NBA regular season record best in 1956-57 and danced in the playoffs to claim their first NBA title, defeating the Hawks.
In a rematch in the 1958 Finals, the Celtics and Hawks split their first two games at Boston Garden. But Russell sustained an ankle injury in Game 3 and was ineffective for the rest of the series. The Falcons eventually won the series in six games.
The Russell and Celtics dominated the NBA Finals afterward, winning 10 titles in 11 years and giving professional basketball a level of prestige it never had before.
In the process, Russell revolutionized the game. He was a 6-foot-9 post, whose stun reflexes impeded shots and other defensive maneuvers that made a quick attack in full development.
In 1966, after eight consecutive titles, Auerbach retired as coach and appointed Russell as his successor. Hailed as a social advance, Russell was the first black coach for a major league team in any sport, let alone a very distinguished one. But neither Russell nor Auerbach saw this move as such. They felt it was simply the best way to keep winning, and as a player and coach, Russell won two more titles over the next three years.
Their biggest opponent was age. After winning his eleventh championship in 1969 at the age of 35, Russell retired, leading to a mini rebuild. During his 13 seasons, the NBA expanded from eight teams to 14. Russell Celtics teams never had to survive more than three playoff rounds to win the title.
“If Bill Russell came back today with the same equipment, the same mental strength, and exactly the same person he was when he landed in the NBA in 1956, he would be the best player in the league,” Bob Ryan, a former Celtics beat writer for the Boston Globe, told the newspaper. San Francisco Chronicle in 2019. “As an athlete, he’s been way ahead of his time. He’s won three, four, five championships, but not 11 in 13, obviously.”
Besides several titles, Russell’s career was also determined in part by his rival against her Wilt Chamberlain.
In the 1959-60 season, the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain, who averaged 37.6 points per game in his rookie year, made his debut for the Philadelphia Warriors. On November 7, 1959, the Celtics hosted the Chamberlain Warriors, and critics called the confrontation between the best offensive and defensive positions the “Great Clash” and the “Battle of the Titans.” While Chamberlain outperformed Russell 30-22, the Celtics won 115-106, calling the game “a fresh start for basketball.”
The confrontation between Russell and Chamberlain became one of the greatest rivalries in basketball. One of the Celtics’ titles came against the Warriors in San Francisco in 1964.
Although Chamberlain outperformed and outplayed Russell over 142 head-to-head games (28.7 rebounds per game to 23.7, 28.7 points per game to 14.5) and their entire career (22.9 RPG to 22.5, 30.1 PPG to 15.1), Russell has typically been named MVP overall, mainly due to his teams winning 87 (61%) of those matches.
In the playoff between the two, Russell and the Celtics won by seven. Russell 11 championship episodes. Chamberlain has only two.
“I was the villain because I was bigger and stronger than anyone else out there,” Chamberlain told the Boston Herald in 1995. Big laugh. Plus, he played for the greatest team ever.
“My team was losing and winning, so it would be natural for me to be jealous. Not right. I’m more than happy with the way things went. It was the best overall, and it just helped make it my best.”
After Russell retired from basketball, and secured his place in its history, he moved into wider fields, hosting talk shows on radio and television and writing newspaper columns on general topics.
In 1973, Russell took charge of the Seattle Super Sonics, then a 6-year-old expansion franchise never seen before in the playoffs, as coach and general manager. The previous year, the Sonic had won 26 games and sold 350 season tickets. Under Russell, they won 36, 43, 43 and 40 games, making them the playoffs twice. When he quit, they had a solid base of 5,000 season tickets and a team that reached the NBA Finals in the next two years.
Russell was reportedly frustrated by the players’ reluctance to embrace his team concept. Some have suggested that the problem was with Russell himself; He was said to be aloof, temperamental, and unable to accept anything but Celtic traditions. Ironically, Lenny Wilkins led Seattle to the championship two years later, preaching the same team concept that Russell had tried unsuccessfully to inculcate.
A decade after leaving Seattle, Russell tried training again, taking his place Jerry Reynolds As coach of the Sacramento Kings early in the 1987-88 season. The team staggered to 17-41, and Russell left mid-season.
Between rehearsals, Russell was more visible as a color commentator at televised basketball games. For a while it was paired with the same amount of candor Rick BarryThe duo gave a candid comment on the game. Russell was never comfortable in this setting, though, explaining to Sacramento Bee, “Most successful television is done in eight-second thoughts, and the things I know about basketball, motivation, and people go deeper than that.”
He also plunged into acting, performing at the Seattle Children’s Theater and an episode of “Miami Vice”, and wrote his sensational autobiography, “Second Wind”.
Russell became the first black player to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, and in 1980 he was voted the best player in NBA history by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America. He was part of the 75th Anniversary Team announced by the NBA in October 2021.
In 2013, Boston honored Russell with a statue in City Hall Plaza.