Bill Russell died Sunday. He was 88. Passed peacefully at his home in Mercer Island, Washington, with his wife by his side.
Born in Louisiana, his family moved to California where he attended Oakland’s McClymonds High School. Like Michael Jordan who was cut by his varsity team, Russell was cut by his junior high team. The rest, as they say, is history. A big one!
Russell led the University of San Francisco to national championships in 1955 (28-1 record) and 1956 (29-0); in one stretch, the Dons won 55 straight games. Russell played for legendary coach Phil Woolpert, and one of his teammates was future Boston Celtic and Hall of Famer K.C. Jones.
Russell was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks with the second pick of the 1956 NBA Draft but was traded to the Celtics. Red Auerbach, the coach of the Celtics, had his eye on No. 6 for a long time and knew what Bill Russell would mean to the franchise and the city of Boston.
Russell became the champion of all champions, winning 11 NBA titles as a player for the Boston Celtics. Think about that … 11 titles in a 13-year career. Nobody won more. Okay, maybe the New York Yankees. But no player ever achieved what Bill Russell did.
He also became the first African American coach in any sport in North America; two of his titles were as player-coach. He was inducted twice in the Basketball Hall of Fame, as a player and as a coach.
In 12 of Russell’s 13 seasons, the Celtics had the NBA’s top-ranked defense, leaving little doubt that he’s the best defender of all time.
He and Wilt Chamberlain were intense rivals and competitors. They battled for East Coast supremacy for years and put their signatures on the legacy of the game. Every matchup was a media event.
So, who was better … Russell or Chamberlain? Let’s take a look.
— Russell and Chamberlin met 94 times head-to-head in the regular season. The Celtics were 57-37 in those games.
—They met 49 times in the playoffs, where Russell’s Celtics held a 29-20 edge.
— Chamberlain outscored Russell in their regular season matchups, with his 29.2 points per game average almost doubling Russell’s 14.2.
— Rings: No contest … Russell’s Celtics won 11 and Chamberlain (Warriors, Lakers) won two titles.
— MVPs: Russell 5, Chamberlain 4.
— Career points: Chamberlain wins big here — his 31,419 points in 15 seasons more than doubles Russell’s 14,522 in 13 seasons.
— All-NBA teams: Russell 11, Chamberlain 10.
Conclusion: Bill Russell was the champ of all champs. He led by performance and defense. He had great players around him. His passing and rim-protecting talents were in a class of their own. He made everyone around him better. Winning 11 NBA championships in 13 years is hard to argue with.
Wilt Chamberlain, who passed away in 1999, was the most productive scorer of the era. He scored 50 or more points 118 times (Michael Jordan is 2nd, with 31) and was the only person in the NBA to score 100 points in a game. In the 1961-62 season, he averaged 50 points a game.
Together, they were the most dominant and destructive centers to play the game. The game was totally different in the 1960s.
But Russell was the G.O.A.T., paving the way for the growth and development of the National Basketball Association.
And Russell is the best No. 6 in any sport.
The MVP of the NBA Finals is awarded the Bill Russell trophy — named for the most complete player ever to don a NBA uniform.
Rest easy, big fellow, you showed us what a true champion looks like and is all about.
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