One Year Mark Since the Passing of Bill Russell

One year since the passing of Bill Russell - the record-holder for NBA championships.

Bill Russell is the NBA championships record-holder with 11 championships in 13 years with the Boston Celtics. He made history as the first Black head coach in the top basketball league in the world

Russell guards Chamberlain (photo: from Wikimedia)

The Golden State Warriors won 4 NBA championships in the last decade and are considered one of the great dynasties in the history of the top basketball league in the world. Since the Los Angeles Lakers in the early millennium, no team has won 3 consecutive championships. Only once in history has a team won more than 3 consecutive championships, and that was the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and 1960s, achieving it 8 times in a row. One year ago, on July 31, 2022, the team's legendary star, Bill Russell, passed away.

Bill Russell was born on February 12, 1934, in West Monroe, Louisiana, to an African-American family that suffered from severe racial discrimination, which forced them to move to Oakland, California. He grew up in harsh poverty and experienced racial abuse. His mother passed away when he was 12, and like many others, he found solace in basketball.

He began his basketball journey at McClymonds High School's basketball team and almost quit the team, but was convinced by his coach, George Powles, to stay. At the University of San Francisco in 1954, Russell became a leading center and made history alongside K.C. Jones and Hal Perry when, for the first time in history, three black players started in the lineup.

He led the team to two championships in 1955 and 1956, and in 1956, he was selected as the second overall pick in the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics. He turned down the opportunity to join the NBA that year in order to participate in the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, as the Olympic committee prohibited professional players from competing. Together with him, the United States danced its way to the gold medal, with victories by an average margin of 53.5 points.

Bill Russell quickly became the leading center in Boston

In December 1956, he joined the Celtics and quickly became the team's leading center, averaging 14.7 points and 19.6 rebounds per game, earning him the title of the league's rebounding king. Before his arrival, Boston was considered a team with strong offense but weak defense. Russell, with his defensive prowess, improved the team's defensive capabilities by causing opponents to lose many balls. Russell also excelled in his shot-blocking abilities.

Russell in the Celtics uniform (photo: from Wikimedia)

In his first season, Boston finished first in the league with 44 wins and 28 losses. In the seventh game of the finals, Russell blocked a shot attempt by Jack Coleman from the St. Louis Hawks, taking the game to overtime. At the end of the second overtime, Boston won 125-123 and secured its first championship in its history.

A year later, Russell increased his scoring (16.6) and rebounding (22.7) averages, breaking the rebounding record for that period. He won the league's MVP award and led the Celtics to the top of the league again with 49 wins. In the finals, Boston faced the Hawks again but without Russell, who got injured in the third game. They lost 4-2 and finished in second place.

Breaking records with eight consecutive championships

In the 1958/1959 season, he further improved his record with 16 points and 23 rebounds per game. He led the Celtics to a new league record with 52 wins in a season and another championship, starting the great championship streak. In the finals, he defeated what would become his sworn rival, the Minneapolis Lakers, who would later become the Los Angeles Lakers, with a 4-0 victory.

The Lakers' coach, John Kundla, said of him: "We are not afraid of the Celtics without Bill Russell. Take him out, and we can beat them. He's someone who psychologically intimidated us." From there, Russell and the Celtics embarked on an incredible streak of eight championships, a record in American sports to this day. Russell's peak season in terms of points was the 1962/63 season, where he averaged 18.9 points per game.

Chamberlain, A Glorious Rivalry (Photo: Shutterstock)

A year later it was a peak season in terms of rebounds, as he averaged 24.7 rebounds per game. In the 1959/1960 season, Boston broke the record for most wins with 59 victories and only 16 losses. During those years, a fierce rivalry developed between Russell, who was considered a defensive center, and Wilt Chamberlain, who was regarded as one of the greatest offensive centers in history and is best known for his game where he scored 100 points.

Bill Russell as player-coach

Before the 1966/1967 season, Red Auerbach, the coach who led the Celtics to nine championships, retired. After several attempts with former players, Auerbach turned to Russell with a request to serve in a dual role as a player-coach. In doing so, Russell became the first African-American head coach in NBA history.

In his first season in the role, Boston's championship streak came to an end as the team lost in the Eastern Finals 1-4 to the Philadelphia 76ers, led by Chamberlain. In the fifth game, Boston, known for its defense, allowed 140 points from their opponent. The following season, despite not finishing in first place in the regular season, the Celtics reclaimed the championship. In the Eastern Finals, they became the first team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win. In the finals, Boston defeated the Lakers 4-2.

Auerbach and Russell (photo: from Wikimedia)

In the 1968/1969 season, despite a decline in performance and an increase in weight, with "only" 9.9 points and 19.3 rebounds per game, Russell led the team to fourth place in the East. It was the 12th time in his career that he reached the NBA Finals, facing the strengthened Lakers with Chamberlain. The series went to a thrilling seventh game, where the Celtics emerged victorious with a score of 108-106, securing their 11th championship in 13 years. At the end of the game, Russell announced his retirement.

An unsuccessful coaching career

His coaching career was not particularly successful, and after 4 years as the coach of the Seattle Supersonics, he retired from coaching with a record of 162 wins and 166 losses. However, he returned a decade later to coach the Sacramento Kings, but there too, he did not achieve much success. In 1972, Boston announced that no player would wear Russell's jersey number (6).

In 1975, he was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in the player category, and in 2021, he was inducted as a coach, becoming the first African-American coach ever in the NBA. In 2006, he was also inducted into the college basketball Hall of Fame. In 2011, Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-US President Barack Obama, and in 2017, he became the first recipient of the NBA Lifetime Achievement Award.

Obama, presented Russell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (Photo: Shutterstock)

He received honorary doctorate degrees from various universities and was inducted into the FIBA ​​Hall of Fame. From 2009, the NBA Finals MVP award was named after him. He tried to enter business but failed and ended up bankrupt, he tried to work as a broadcaster but felt uncomfortable, he wrote several books and secluded himself for several years on Mercer Island near Seattle. On July 31, 2022, he passed away, at the age of 88.

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