Bill Russell, NBA Trailblazer, Dies At 88

Bill Russell, an 11-time NBA champion identified for breaking down racial limitations and his defensive prowess on the basketball court docket, died on Sunday. He was 88.

An announcement posted on Twitter didn’t embody particulars of his demise however mentioned Russell “passed away peacefully … with his wife, Jeannine, by his side.”

All through his 13-season profession on the Boston Celtics, the 6-foot-10-inch Russell pulled in 21,620 rebounds — the second highest of all time. His eager consciousness of the ground revolutionized how protection was performed within the NBA.

Russell additionally turned the primary Black head coach in any main American skilled sports activities league when Purple Auerbach handed him the reins of the Celtics in 1966, and he accomplished the final three years of his on-court profession as a player-coach.

Russell was an 11-time NBA champion.

Nathaniel S. Butler by way of Getty Pictures

Born on Feb. 12, 1934, William Felton Russell spent his earliest years in Monroe, Louisiana, earlier than his household moved west throughout World Warfare II, in the end touchdown in Oakland, California.

In class, he was a pure monitor star and led his highschool basketball staff to consecutive state titles.

At the College of San Francisco — hardly a basketball powerhouse — he performed underneath coach Phil Woolpert, who preached a mode predicated on hard-nosed protection, a system that helped Russell explode right into a nationwide phenomenon.

His trademark transfer? He jumped. He eschewed defensive custom, refusing to maintain his toes on the bottom, altering every possession, in addition to the game itself.

Russell, while a player at University of San Francisco, shows his form in April 1956.
Russell, whereas a participant at College of San Francisco, reveals his kind in April 1956.

Underwood Archives by way of Getty Pictures

He tallied a median of 20.7 factors and 20.3 rebounds per recreation all through his three-year collegiate profession, profitable nationwide championships in 1955 and 1956.

After bringing that second title again to campus, Russell went skilled. Although a number of franchises jockeyed to get him, he was the No. 2 decide within the 1956 NBA Draft, which introduced him to the Celtics.

After a pit cease in Melbourne, Australia, for the Summer season Olympics, it took little time for the Russell- and Auerbach-led Celtics to dominate. Flip by means of the league annals of the following few seasons, and also you’ll see some mixture of “Boston,” “Celtics” and “Russell” subsequent to a laughable variety of information, as Russell’s lengthy arms, Auerbach’s gritty model and the Celtics’ staff chemistry led the franchise to 11 titles in 13 years.

Russell averaged over 20 rebounds a recreation in each season of his profession, besides his first 12 months and his final two years. He was named the league’s Most Worthwhile Participant 5 instances — tied with Michael Jordan and trailing solely Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for many ever. And within the 1963-1964 season, he corralled 24.7 rebounds per recreation — about half of what a complete staff brings in at the moment.

Simply how good have been the Celtics with Russell? The membership received the title in: 1957, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1968, and 1969.

In public and to the press, Russell was brusque. He as soon as famously declared that he owed Celtics followers “nothing” and “refuse[d] to smile and be nice to the kiddies.”

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Russell in 2010.
President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Russell in 2010.

ImageCatcher Information Service by way of Getty Pictures

His standoffishness has been generally attributed to the racial local weather of the time ― an period by which his residence was damaged into and vandalized, with bigotry scrawled onto his partitions. He and his Black teammates have been refused service at a restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky, earlier than a Celtics exhibition recreation, which they then determined to boycott in protest.

In 1963, he marched in Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and he was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his advocacy in 2010.

Russell retired following his eleventh championship run in 1968-1969. He briefly served as head coach of the Seattle Supersonics and the Sacramento Kings, however after taking off that Celtics No. 6 jersey for the ultimate time, he largely light out of public life, selecting to reside on a small island simply east of Seattle ― with household, with out fuss.

He wasn’t current when the Celtics first retired his jersey in 1972. He “insisted” that it’s hung from the rafters when the famed Boston Backyard was empty of all followers, so blemished was his reminiscence of his time in a metropolis he would later name a “flea market of racism.”

It wasn’t till 27 years later that Russell agreed to be current for a re-retirement of his uniform. In line with The New York Instances, he shed tears that night time on the sight of tens of hundreds of followers in Celtics inexperienced, on their toes, chanting his identify, three many years after he had unceremoniously left the franchise.

Sara Bondioli contributed reporting.