Bill Russell, the 11-time NBA champion and Boston Celtics’ great, passes away at 88

Bill Russell, the 11-time NBA champion and Boston Celtics' great, passes away at 88

Bill Russell, the cornerstone for the Boston CelticsSunday's death marked the end of a dynasty which won eight consecutive titles and 11 overall over his career. The Hall of Famer was 88.

Russell, Jeannine and Jeannine died peacefully together. a statement posted on social media said. According to the statement, arrangements for his memorial service will soon be made.

Bill's deep understanding of the struggle was what made his life so memorable, despite all the wins. To unmask long-tolerated discrimination in 1961, Bill boycotted an exhibition game and led Mississippi's first integrated basketball program in the combustible aftermath of Medgar Evans’ assassination. His decades of activism were ultimately recognized in 2010 when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Jeannine, Bill’s wife, and his many friends, thank you for remembering Bill in their prayers. You might recall some of his best moments or remember his infectious laugh when he explained the true story behind those moments. We hope we can all find new ways to express our principled commitments with Bill. This would be one final, lasting win for #6.

Russell's remarkable career spans a period of 15 years, starting with his junior year at University of San Francisco. Russell was twice an All-American at USF. He won two straight NCAA championships as well as leading the team to 55 consecutive victories. At the 1956 Olympics, he was awarded a gold-medal.

In his thirteen years of service in Boston, he led the Celtics to the NBA Finals twelve times and won the championship eleven times. After Russell suffered a serious injury and was admitted to hospital, the Celtics lost the 1958 series to the St. Louis Hawks. The Celtics lost their next two games by three points.

Russell, a five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star was a brilliant shot blocker that revolutionized NBA defense concepts. He ended his career with 21,620 rebounds, an average 22.5 per game, and he was the league's leader in rebounding four years. He had 51 rebounds in a single game, 49 in another two games, and 12 consecutive seasons with 1,000+ rebounds. Russell's career average was 15.1 points per game and 4.3 assists.

Russell was, until Michael Jordan's achievements in the 1990s and Jordan's heroics in the 2000s, considered the greatest NBA player.

Former President Barack Obama presented Russell with the Medal of Freedom in 2011, which is the nation's highest civilian award. The NBA also presented Russell with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

William Felton Russell, born February 12, 1934, was raised in Monroe, Louisiana. His family moved to California, where he attended McClymonds High School. He was an unremarkable, awkward center on McClymonds' basketball teams, but his size earned him a scholarship to San Francisco where he flourished.

Russell stated to The New York Times that he was an innovator in 2011. “I began blocking shots, even though I had never seen shots blocked in my life before.” My coach called timeout when I did this in a game. He said that ‘No good defensive player ever leaves the feet'.

Russell did it anyway and he teamed-up with K.C. Jones led the Dons to 55 consecutive wins and national championships in 1955 and 1956. (Jones missed four matches of the 1956 tournament due to his eligibility having expired. Russell was the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player for 1955. The U.S. team won the 1956 Olympics at Melbourne, Australia.

Red Auerbach, the Celtics general manager and coach, was keen to add Russell to his roster as he approached the 1956 NBA draft. Auerbach had created a highly-scoring offensive unit around the guards. Bob Cousy Bill Sharman, and Ed Macauley, an undersized center, felt that the Celtics lacked the rebounding and defense needed to make them a championship-caliber team. Auerbach believed Russell was missing the piece.

Auerbach arranged a deal to trade Russell for Ed Macauley after the St. Louis Hawks selected Russell during the 1956 draft.

The Boston starting five of Russell (Tommy Heinsohn), Cousy, Sharman, and Jim Loscutoff were a high-octane group. The Celtics had the best regular season record in the NBA from 1956 to 1957 and won their first NBA title by beating the Hawks in the playoffs.

The 1958 NBA Finals rematch saw the Hawks and Celtics split the first two Boston Garden games. Russell was injured in his ankle in Game 3, and was unable to play the rest of the series. In the end, the Hawks won the series in six games.

After that, Russell and the Celtics held a stranglehold over the NBA Finals. They went on to win 10 titles in eleven years and gave professional basketball a level and prestige it hadn't had before.

Russell changed the game. Russell, a 6-foot-9 center, was known for his lightning reflexes which enabled him to perform shot-blocking as well as other defensive maneuvers that could be used to trigger a fast-break offense.

Auerbach, who had won eight consecutive titles, retired as coach in 1966 and appointed Russell to be his successor. This was seen as a socially significant step, since Russell was the first Black coach for a major league team in any sports, let alone one so distinguished. Russell and Auerbach didn't see the move in that way. It was the best way to win, and Russell, as a coach-player, won two more titles over the next three seasons.

Age was their greatest opponent. Russell retired at 35 after he won his 11th title in 1969. This was the beginning of a mini-Boston reconstruction. The NBA grew from eight to 14 teams during his 13 seasons. Russell won a title without having to go through more than three playoff rounds.

“If Bill Russell could come back today with the exact same equipment and brainpower, the exact same person that he was in 1956 when he landed in NBA, he would be a great rebounder,” Bob Ryan, a former Celtics beat reporter for the Boston Globe, told The San Francisco Chronicle. He was a great athlete. He won three, four or five national championships. But he didn't win 11 in thirteen years.

Russell's career was also influenced by his rivalry against. Wilt Chamberlain.

Chamberlain, a 7-foot-1 player, averaged 37.6 point per game during his rookie year. This was in the 1959-60 season. Russell's Celtics hosted Chamberlain’s Warriors on Nov. 7, 1959. The matchup between the top offensive and defensive centres was called “The Big Collision” and “Battle of the Titans” by pundits. The game was described as a “new beginning” in basketball, with Chamberlain scoring more than Russell by 30-22.

Russell and Chamberlain's matchup became one of the greatest basketball rivalries. In 1964, Wilt Chamberlain's San Francisco Warriors won one of the Celtics' championships.

Russell was outscored and Chamberlain outrebounded Russell throughout their 142 career games (22.7 rebounds per games to 23.7, 28.7 point per game at 14.5) and their entire careers (22.9 PG to 22.5 and 30.1 PPG respectively to 15.1) but Russell always won the overall award because his teams won an average of 87 (61%) games.

Russell and the Celtics won seven of the eight playoff series. Russell has 11 championship rings while Chamberlain has only two. The Celtics' only win was against Russell.

Chamberlain said to the Boston Herald in 1995 that “I was the antagonist because I was so bigger and stronger than any other out there.” People tend not to root against Goliath. Bill back then, though jovial and great at having a good time, was an example of this. He also played for the greatest team of all time.

“My team was losing while his team was winning so it would only be natural that my jealousy would set in. But that's not the truth. I'm happy with the outcome. I was able to see the best in him, which only made me more happy.”

Russell quit basketball and his place in history was secure. He then moved into larger spheres hosting radio and television talk show and writing newspaper columns about general topics.

Russell became the general manager and coach of the Seattle SuperSonics in 1973. The Sonics had won 26 games the year before and sold 350 season tickets. They won the games of 36, 43, 43, 43, and 40 under Russell. They also made it to the playoffs twice. He resigned with a strong base of 5,000 season ticket holders and the material necessary to reach the NBA Finals series in the next two seasons.

Russell was reportedly frustrated by the unwillingness of his players to accept his team concept. Some speculated that Russell himself was to blame for the problems. He was described as being aloof and moody and unable or unwilling to accept Celtics' traditions. Ironically, Lenny Wilkens, who led Seattle to a championship in 2002, preached the same team concept as Russell.

Russell, a decade after he quit Seattle, gave coaching another chance, replacing Jerry Reynolds As coach of the Sacramento Kings The 1987-88 season was a good one. Russell was forced to leave midseason after the team managed a 17-41 record.

Russell was most well-known as a color commentator during televised NBA games. He was sometimes paired up with the equally blunt Rick BarryThey provided a brutally candid commentary on the game. Russell wasn't at ease in this setting. However, he explained to the Sacramento Bee that he was “not comfortable with it.”

He also tried acting in a Seattle Children's Theatre production and on an episode “Miami Vice”; he also wrote a provocative autobiography entitled “Second Wind.”

Russell was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1974. In 1980, the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America voted him the Greatest Player in the NBA's History. In October 2021, he was announced as part of the NBA's 75th Anniversary Team.

Boston honored Russell in 2013 with a statue at City Hall Plaza

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