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Bill Russell Rings You Probably Don’t Remember

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Bill Russell was a basketball stalwart. He spent 13 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Russell was one of the best players in the game, winning 11 Championship rings, an NBA record that still stands.

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Throughout his glittering career, he received numerous individual and team accolades. In this article. We’ll go over his career.

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Bill Russell’s Early Life

Spotcovery-Bill Russell Rings You Probably Don’t Remember
Former Boston Celtics player Bill Russell during his time at the USF. Source: Wikimedia licensed by Public domain

Bill Russell was born in Louisiana and moved to Oakland, California with his family. His journey in basketball wasn’t easy because he lacked the fundamentals. He was cut off from one of the high school basketball teams dampening his chances of becoming a basketballer. 

Despite that, one of his few chances came at McClymonds High School where he almost missed out. The coach realized his athletic ability even though his skill set was lacking. To keep him in, he encouraged Russell to work on his skills. 

He developed a new style of playing, running and jumping to defend as opposed to the traditional norm of staying flat-footed. Additionally, he carefully studied his opponents’ movements to know how to defend them.

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College Career

This made a difference in his career. Many colleges and universities didn’t give him a chance except for the University of San Francisco (USF) through the recommendation of former player Hal DeJulio. He helped the school to win two NCAA championships (National Collegiate Athletics Association). The University of Los Angeles California (UCLA) coach John Wooden described him as “the best defensive play he’s seen”.

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NBA Career

Bill Russell’s career highlights. Video Credit: ESPN

The Boston Celtics head coach Red Auerbach wanted to draft Russell but they were down the pecking order. Usually, the worst teams get the best picks so other teams could have him. St. Louis Hawks picked him in the 1956 NBA draft as the first round, second overall pick. 

However, they wanted a Celtic player so this was Auerbach’s chance to land Russell. St. Louis Hawks traded Russell to get Ed Macauley. This was the beginning of Bill Russell’s unforgettable journey in the NBA.

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NBA Championships

The Boston Celtics had never won the NBA Championships and they were looking for the missing piece that was finally going to make them contenders. They were an attacking team but were light on defense which led to multiple turnovers. The arrival of Russell was the defensive solution the team needed. 

After winning an Olympic gold medal with the United States team at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, he joined the Celtics. In his first season, the center caught the attention of the Celtics fans with his run-and-jump defensive style. He was unplayable, and in his first season, recorded an average of 19.6 rebounds per game in 48 games and 14.7 points.

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The team finished the regular season with a 44-28 record and needed only three games to reach its first NBA finals appearance. The Celtics played against the St. Louis Hawks. By game six, both teams were level and had an equal chance to win in game 7. It was a decisive game and Russell’s defensive abilities came into play. 

With the Celtics leading the game 103-102, he blocked Jack Coleman’s shot to keep the lead. With a few seconds left in the game, Hawks Petite made a shot that danced around the hoop and then went out to hand the Celtics their first NBA Championship.

The following year, the team lost the Championship to the St. Louis Hawks. Russell suffered a foot injury that kept him out of some games. However, coach Auerbach refused to say they lost because of his absence but because the opponent was good. 

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Eight Consecutive NBA Titles

Bill Russell’s Rings. Video Credit: Nonstop

In 1959, the Celtics reclaimed the title in four games, after a stellar season of breaking records. The team won 52 games and once again, Russell produced a leading performance, averaging 16.7 points per game and 23 rebounds. 

In 1960, basketball enthusiasts witnessed one of the greatest rivalries between Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. The clash between the Celtics and the Philadelphia Warriors, Chamberlain’s team, was dubbed the ‘The Big Collision”. Although Chamberlain outscored Russell, the Celtics won the game, which was the first in multiple series they’d play, including the playoffs. 

The Celtics won that too and beat the St. Louis Hawks for a third NBA Championship. En route to their latest victory, Russell scored 51 rebounds, the most in a game until Chamberlain scored 55. In the playoffs, he registered a record 40 rebounds.

There was no stopping the Celtics. Their winning streak went on as Bill Russell continued being the focal point of his team. In 1961, he averaged 16.9 points and 23.9 rebounds, and outlasted the St. Louis Hawks to win another title, Russell’s fourth ring.

Russell and the Celtics won the title until 1966. His numbers were outstanding and contributed to the long streak. They beat regular contenders: 

  • Philadelphia Warriors
  • St. Louis Hawks
  • The Los Angeles Lakers

After the 1966 season, coach Red Auerbach retired and Bill Russell became a player-coach of the Boston Celtics. He wasn’t the first choice but after Frank Ramsey, Bob Cousy and Tom Heinsohn refused the job, Russell accepted the offer.

Outside the Court

Bill Russell wasn’t just the NBA’s first black superstar, his influence extended outside the court. He used his platform to speak about racism, was an activist alongside greats like Muhammad Ali, was against the Vietnam War and supported the Civil Rights Movement

His experience as a black man in sports led to a frosty relationship with, the fans, the media and other players. For example, he refused to sign autographs because he thought that some fans were hypocritical for praising him as a basketball player but then supported segregation. 

As a result, Russell didn’t attend the victory parade after winning an 11th title and also missed his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. For him, he was walking the talk.

Retirement

In 1969, Bill Russell retired from the game. He returned as a coach but didn’t win as much as he did as a player. He worked in commentary for CBS and TBS and appeared on NBA on ABC. He received a lot of awards:

To think that Bill Russell might not have become a basketballer after he was overlooked because of lacking the fundamentals makes his achievements even greater. He revolutionized how the center position is played and was a focal point in Boston Celtics’ success.

Russell holds the record of winning the most NBA Championship rings with 11. However, he never won the NBA Finals MVP as the award was introduced in 1969, the final year of his career. That said, it was named after him, and it goes to show his impact and status, as a legend of the game.

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