Bill Russell lived an unparalleled life.
From his accomplishments on the basketball courtroom to his way more significant contributions to society, Russell was a very exceptional man who left an indelible affect on the NBA and past.
He’s the best winner in American skilled sports activities historical past. He was a champion for civil rights, together with having to face as much as abuses even whereas main the Boston Celtics to their run of 11 championships in 13 seasons. He turned the NBA’s first Black head coach, and his title now adorns the league’s Finals MVP trophy — a becoming tribute to a person who has claimed extra championships than any participant within the NBA’s 75-year historical past.
Russell’s legacy, nonetheless, goes far past his title being etched on a trophy. He’s one in every of basketball’s foundational stars — greater than a half-century after he performed his closing sport.
Right here, then, are a group of anecdotes that, partly, clarify why Russell stands tall within the annals of NBA historical past — and why that would be the case for so long as the league exists.
The final word winner
There are lots of methods to explain Russell’s dominance on the courtroom. Probably the most spectacular, nonetheless, comes from one other legendary basketball determine: longtime Boston Globe scribe Bob Ryan, who lined Russell’s closing few seasons with the Celtics:
Between Russell’s time on the College of San Francisco, the Olympics and with the Celtics, he performed in 21 completely different winner-take-all video games: single-elimination video games in both the NCAA event or the Olympics, or a series-deciding Recreation 5 or 7 through the NBA playoffs.
Russell’s report in these video games? A cool 21-0.
In a win-or-go-home sport, Russell’s workforce by no means went residence. That unequaled drive to win separated Russell from everybody within the historical past of the game — together with his biggest rival, Wilt Chamberlain.
There was no opponent who Russell could be intimidated by, or consider he was lesser than. That is why, greater than 50 years later, he stays the best winner in American skilled sports activities historical past. It is a title that, like many different issues about Russell’s life, is difficult to think about anybody taking from him.
Simply chalk it as much as one closing victory for a person who spent his life racking them up at a report tempo.
— Tim Bontemps
Michael Wilbon discusses Invoice Russell’s contributions past the basketball courtroom.
A civilian in Alcatraz
In 1956, Russell and the remaining 4 starters from school basketball’s first dynasty sailed throughout the San Francisco Bay towards Alcatraz, the infamous island federal penitentiary that housed mafia kingpins, serial killers, financial institution robbers and different violent criminals that the U.S. authorities believed could not be locked away wherever else.
They had been informed civilians weren’t allowed there, however Russell and his College of San Francisco teammates — winners of two straight nationwide championships and a report 55 consecutive video games — got unprecedented entry to the convicts. Why? As a result of the jail confronted stress between its Black and white inmates, and it was believed that the USF Dons, the primary workforce to begin three African American gamers (with Russell, future NBA Corridor of Famer and Boston Celtic teammate Ok.C. Jones, and Hal Perry, a guard), may assist.
In a swimsuit and tie, and with a fedora atop his 6-foot-9 body, Russell walked by way of the cellhouse, kitchen, hospital and recreation yard, and joined his teammates alongside one convict who was segregated from all others: Robert Stroud, the well-known “Birdman of Alcatraz.”
“In my time, I by no means noticed another civilians contained in the [cellhouse],” John Hernan, a former correctional officer who was current that day and escorted the gamers down “Broadway,” the central walkway between C and B blocks, as soon as mentioned. “And now that you just point out it, they’d be the one civilians who walked down Broadway like they did.”
The convicts worshiped Russell, who averaged 20.6 factors and 21 rebounds that season for USF. They shouted his statistics at him. “They checked out Invoice Russell like he was God,” Carl Boldt, one in every of his USF teammates, mentioned.
Greater than a half-century later, the Golden State Warriors solid their very own dynasty, turning into probably the most dominant Bay Space basketball workforce since Russell’s Dons. All informed, he performed for 21 years and noticed his groups win the championship in 18 of them, however his profession by then was within the rearview, left to the historical past books. However Russell, who grew up blocks from Oakland’s Oracle Area, and his teammates knew all too effectively what it was wish to be the toast of the Bay, to steamroll opponents sport after sport, and have fun at season’s finish. And at any time when these Warriors had been on, a supply near him mentioned, Russell discovered a tv and tuned in.
— Baxter Holmes
The patriarch of the NBA
Amongst all his accolades, we additionally want to recollect Russell because the NBA’s final elder statesman, our emeritus champion who would all the time lend his unmatched gravitas to raise the league’s most necessary ceremonies.
It was on this position that microphones captured his unforgettable dialog with Kobe Bryant on the sidelines of the 2008 All-Star Recreation.
“See, I watch plenty of your video games,” Russell mentioned then. “You see, once I watch your video games I strive to select what every participant’s agenda is and to see how effectively he is carrying that out. That is the way in which I watch it. Severely, I could not be prouder of you in the event you had been my very own son and that is the reality.”
“I bought that trigger I learn your e book”
A heartfelt second from the 2008 All-Star Recreation between Kobe Bryant & Invoice Russell. pic.twitter.com/brGnkJAhO4
— NBA (@NBA) August 1, 2022
These sorts of fatherly moments seize the affect that Russell had many years after he completed taking part in and training. He gracefully turned the unofficial mentor of the NBA deep into his 80s.
Sure, Russell’s untouchable résumé as a participant, coach, and civil rights activist all the time made him an ideal ambassador on paper, however it was his affable presence, his signature smile, and that respectable assist for youthful gamers that actually enabled him to thrive because the patriarch for the nice league he helped legitimize many years earlier as a famous person and coach.
In February 2009, when former commissioner David Stern introduced the NBA would title its Finals MVP trophy after Russell, he mentioned, “Invoice impressed a technology not simply of basketball followers however Individuals in every single place. He’s revered by colleagues, coaches, followers, and his legacy clearly has withstood the check of time.”
Russell used all of his 88 years to construct probably the most complete legacy this sport will ever see.
— Kirk Goldsberry
Protection wins 11 championships
Russell had extra affect on basketball — and on his workforce’s means to win — than another NBA participant. And it reveals up within the numbers.
Each one in every of his 11 titles will be traced on to Russell’s dominance.
Regardless of all of his Corridor of Fame teammates, Russell’s Celtics sometimes had under common offenses as measured by workforce offensive score. However the defenses … oh my goodness, the defenses!
The Celtics boasted the perfect protection within the NBA in 12 of Russell’s 13 seasons, at instances by absurd margins. Through the 1963-64 season, the Celtics’ defensive score was a whopping 10.8 factors per 100 possessions higher than league common. By comparability, the perfect offense that season was solely 4.3 factors per 100 possessions higher than league common. The Celtics received the championship that season regardless of ending final within the NBA in offensive score.
In 1964-65, the Celtics defensive score was 7.4 factors per 100 possessions higher than the second place workforce. Once more, the Celtics received the chip regardless of having one of many worst offenses within the league.
Russell’s arrival in 1956 kicked off that historic run, together with 5 of the top-25 measured defenses in historical past in 5 consecutive seasons throughout Russell’s peak. The Celtics received the championship with the perfect protection within the NBA in Russell’s rookie season, they usually received the championship with the perfect protection within the league in his thirteenth and closing season.
The season after Russell retired, the Celtics’ protection plummeted to the underside half of the league.
— André Snellings