Bill Russell, byname of William Felton Russell, (born February 12, 1934, Monroe, Louisiana, U.S.), American basketball player who was the first outstanding defensive center in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA) and one of the sport’s greatest icons. He won 11 NBA titles in the 13 seasons that he played with the Boston Celtics, and he became the first African American coach of a modern major professional sports team in the United States when he was named the player-coach of the Celtics in 1966.
Bill Russell Biography:
Russell was lightly recruited by colleges, but Hal DeJulio, a former player at the nearby University of San Francisco (USF), had seen him play and had an inkling as to his potential, so he recommended Russell to his old school. In college, the 6-foot 9-inch (2.06-metre) Russell blossomed, providing a defensive presence that helped lead USF to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships in 1955 and 1956. In addition, he was a high-level sprinter and high jumper on USF’s track-and-field team (Wilt Chamberlain, his future archrival, also excelled at track and field up until his pro basketball career). In 1956 Red Auerbach—the Celtics’ head coach and general manager—targeted Russell in the NBA draft, seeing the solution to his team’s shortcomings. Once again, there was an element of chance involved: Auerbach had never seen Russell play and instead had to rely on the word of a trusted peer. Moreover, the Celtics needed to move up in the draft order to pick him; with Russell coming off two straight NCAA titles, some team was bound to take the plunge. So the Celtics traded centre Ed Macauley and the rights to guard-forward Cliff Hagan, who had yet to play in the NBA owing to his military service, to the St. Louis Hawks shortly after the Hawks used the second overall pick of the draft to select Russell. Both Macauley and Hagan would eventually land in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, an indication of how highly Auerbach valued Russell.
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Russell’s impact was immediate. The Celtics won a title in his rookie year, and he became the league’s first African American superstar, though not its first Black player. He missed out on the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award because his teammate Tom Heinsohn had played the entire season whereas Russell had missed time as a result of his participation in the Melbourne 1956 Olympic Games (where he helped the U.S. men’s basketball team win a gold medal). But there was more to it than that: the white Heinsohn was simply a more attractive candidate for many voters. Russell, outspoken and relentlessly intelligent when it came to matters of race, was not just the NBA’s first Black superstar; as the Celtics quickly came to dominate the NBA, he also became an activist on par with Muhammad Ali. Russell would not stand for racism in sports, which was ironic, given Boston’s historical notoriety in that department.
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Bill Russell Stats:
Bill Russell played 13 seasons for the Celtics. He averaged 22.5 rebounds, 15.1 points and 4.3 assists in 963 regular-season games. He was selected to play in 12 All-Star games. He won 5 MVP awards and 11 NBA championships. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.
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Bill Russell Facts:
Six-foot-nine center known for his defense and ability to block shots.
Won 11 NBA championships in his 13 years with the Boston Celtics in 1957, 1959-1966 and 1968-1969.
Five-time NBA Most Valuable Player in 1958, 1961-1963 and 1965.
Twelve-time NBA All-Star from 1958-1969 and All-Star MVP in 1963.
Served as a commentator for televised basketball games in between his coaching jobs.
Founder and Emeritus board member of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.
Younger brother of playwright Charlie L. Russell.
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Bill Russell Achievements:
He is one of the most successful players ever to have graced American basketball. He won 11 NBA championships as a player with the Boston Celtics in 13 seasons. He is just the second player to have ever made 51 rebounds in a single game and the first NBA player to average more than 20 rebounds per game for an entire season.
He won five regular season MVP awards and was selected three times to the all-NBA First Teams.
He was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011 for his accomplishments in the Civil Rights Movement, both on and off the court.
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