Bill Russell’s legacy as an NBA ambassador, defensive force, and leader of the Bay Area’s original dynasty

Bill Russell Lived a remarkable life.

Russell was an extraordinary man, whose achievements on the basketball court and his more significant contributions to society were remarkable. He left an indelible mark on the NBA as well as the world.

He is considered the greatest American professional sports winner. He was a champion for civil right, even though he led the charge. Boston Celtics They won 11 championships over 13 seasons. He was the NBA's first Black head coaches, and his name is on the league's Finals MVP trophy. It's a fitting tribute for a man who won more championships than any other player in the NBA’s 75-year history.

Russell's legacy extends far beyond his name being inscribed on a trophy. Russell is still a basketball legend, more than half a century after his last game.

These are some anecdotes which, in part, help explain why Russell is still a great player in NBA history. And why it will continue to be so for as long as there is the league.


The ultimate winner

Russell's dominance of the court can be described in many ways. Another legendary basketball player is the most impressive. longtime Boston Globe scribe Bob RyanRussell's last few seasons with the Celtics were covered by :

Russell played 21 games between his time with the Celtics and the Olympics. These included single-elimination games during either the NCAA tournament, Olympics or series-deciding Game 5 or 7.

Russell's record in these games? Cool 21-0

Russell's team is in a win or go home game. Never Go home. Russell stood out among all competitors in the sport's history, including his greatest rival. Wilt Chamberlain.

Russell was never intimidated or believed that he was less than any opponent. He is still the greatest American professional sports winner, 50 years later. Like many other aspects of Russell's life it's hard to imagine anyone taking this title away from him.

This is one last victory for a man whose life was filled with them.

— Tim Bontemps


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Michael Wilbon speaks out about Bill Russell’s contributions beyond the court.

Alcatraz civilian

Russell and four of the college basketball's other dynasties sailed across San Francisco Bay towards Alcatraz. Alcatraz was a notorious federal penitentiary on an island that housed mafia leaders, serial killers.

They were told civilians couldn't go there. But Russell and his University of San Francisco teammates – winners of two straight national championships, and a record 55 consecutive games – were allowed unprecedented access with convicts. Why? The prison was experiencing tension between its Black inmates and white prisoners. It was believed that the USF Dons were the first team to begin three African-American players. Russell, future NBA Hall of Famer, and K.C. Jones and Hal Perry (a guard) could be of assistance.

Russell, at 6 feet 9 inches, was dressed in a suit, tie, and fedora and entered the cellhouse, hospital, and recreation yard. He was joined by Robert Stroud who was segregated from the rest: the “Birdman” of Alcatraz.

“In all my life, I have not seen any other civilians within the [cellhouse]John Hernan, an ex-correctional officer, was present that day and escorted them down “Broadway,” a central walkway connecting C and B blocks. They would be the only civilians to have walked down Broadway as they did, now that you've mentioned it.”

Russell, who was USF's average scorer that season with 20.6 points and 21 rebounding, was idolized by the convicts. They shouted at Russell's statistics. Carl Boldt, one his USF teammates, stated that they looked at Bill Russell like God.

It has been more than half a century since the founding of the Golden State Warriors Their dynasty was forged, and they became the most dominant Bay Area team since Russell's Dons. His career ended in history after he had played 21 years. He saw his teams win the championship 18 times. Russell, who grew-up blocks away from Oakland's Oracle Arena knew well how it felt to be the toast and the talk of the Bay. He would steamroll his opponents and then celebrate at the end. Russell was able to tune in to television whenever the Warriors were playing, according to a close source.

— Baxter Holmes


The patriarch and father of the NBA

Russell was the ultimate elder statesman of the NBA, the champion who gave his unparalleled gravitas to elevate the most important events in the league.

In this role, microphones captured Bryant's unforgettable conversation with Kobe Bryant at the 2008 All-Star Game.

Russell replied, “See? I watch a lot your games.” “You see, I try to figure out each player's agenda and see how he executes it when I watch your games. This is how I view it. I am truly proud of you, my son.

These moments of fatherly love capture Russell's impact on the game and his coaching career. He was the unofficial mentor to the NBA well into his 80s.

Yes, Russell's untouchable résumé as a player, coach, and civil rights activist always made him a perfect ambassador on paper, but it was his affable presence, his signature smile, and that legitimate support for younger players that really enabled him to thrive as the patriarch for the great league he helped legitimize decades earlier as a superstar and coach.

David Stern, former NBA commissioner, announced in February 2009 that the NBA would name its Finals MVP trophy “Bill” after Russell. He said, “Bill has inspired a generation not only of basketball fans, but all Americans.” He is respected by teammates, coaches, fans and his legacy has clearly stood the test.

Russell used his entire 88 years of life to create the best legacy in sports history.

Kirk Goldsberry


Defense wins 11 championships

Russell had the greatest impact on basketball, and on his team’s ability to win, than any other NBA players. It shows in the numbers.

Russell's dominance can be directly traced to every one of his 11 titles.

Russell's Celtics had a below-average offense, despite his Hall of Fame teammates. But, the defenses… Oh my goodness, the defences!

In 12 of Russell's 13 seasons, the Celtics had the best defense in the NBA. Sometimes by huge margins. The defense rating of the Celtics was 10.8 points per 100 possessions higher than the league average during the 1963-64 season. The league average offense for that season was only 4.3 per 100 possessions. Despite finishing last in offensive rating in the NBA, the Celtics won that championship.

In 1964-65 the Celtics defense rating was 7.4 per 100 possessions more than The second-place team. The chip was won by the Celtics again despite their worst offense in the league.

This historic run began with Russell's 1956 arrival. Five of the top 25 measured defenses in history were achieved in five consecutive seasons, during Russell's peak. In Russell's first season, the Celtics won with the best NBA defense. In his thirteenth and final season, they won with the best league defense.

After Russell retired, the Celtics' defense dropped to the bottom half the league.

— André Snellings


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