The sports world lost a true legend this week, as former Boston Celtics center Bill Russell passed away at the age of 88. A trailblazer, Russell’s legacy stands as one of the most impactful athletes on and off the court.
In honor of the man himself, here are the top-five accomplishments of Russell’s Hall of Fame career.
5) NCAA Dominance
For all Russell achieved at the NBA level, it is easy to overlook what was truly a dominant college career. Russell led the University of San Francisco to two NCAA Championships, a stretch that included a stunning 55 consecutive victories. His signature performance came when he recorded an unofficial double-triple-double of 26 points, 27 rebounds, and 20 blocks. Russell was so dominant defensively that the NCAA had little choice but to change the rules, widening the lane and disallowing basket interference. Talk about making an impact.
4) Five NBA MVP Awards
Only one man has won more MVP awards than Bill Russell’s five – Los Angeles Lakers Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with six. But what makes Russell’s awards so unique is that he wasn’t your prototypical high-scoring player. In fact, he never averaged more than 20 points per game in his career. Instead, Russell’s impact came primarily on the defensive end, making his presence felt with his elite rebounding and shot blocking abilities. Think of Michael Jordan’s offensive brilliance, and that was Russell defensively. In the history of the game, only eight times has a player who averaged fewer than 20 points gone on to win NBA MVP; Russell accounts for five.
3) Undefeated in Game 7’s
‘Clutch’ is an oft-used term, but Russell served as the word’s true definition. Throughout his career, Russell appeared in ten winner-takes-all Game 7’s. His record in those contests? A perfect 10-0. Yes, Russell failed to lose a single Game 7 in his entire career, four of those victories coming against his arch-rival Wilt Chamberlain. If you could have one player leading your team in such a scenario, Russell would be at or near the top of the list.
2) First Black Head Coach in NBA History
Selected by fellow Boston legend Red Auerbach as his successor, Russell served as player-coach of the Celtics for the last three years of his career, becoming the first black head coach in league history and the first in any of the four major American professional sports. Over the course of those three seasons, Russell compiled a 162-83 record and won two NBA Championships. He also enjoyed tenures with the Seattle Supersonics (1973-1977) and Sacramento Kings (1987-88), further paving the way for future black head coaches.
1) 11 NBA Championships
If one looked up the definition of the word ‘winner’ in the dictionary, you would likely find a picture of Bill Russell. Russell won a record 11 NBA championships, including eight straight from 1959-1966. Mr. 11 Rings was the driving force in each of Boston’s triumphs and set a standard of excellence unlikely to be surpassed.
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