Bill Russell: Legendary Facts About a Legendary Sports Icon
On Sunday afternoon, July 31st, 2022, it was announced that NBA legend, Bill Russell, had passed away peacefully at the age of 88. Russell was not only known as the winningest NBA player in history but also known as a great man. A role model to many.
While the icon may be gone, he will never be forgotten.
To pay homage to the man himself, we look at some of The Secretary of Defense’s best moments:
Best NBA Game:
In 1962, the NBA Finals winner would be decided by the greatest two words in sports, Game 7. Two franchises with the richest history in the league with an NBA championship on the line. What could be better?
Throughout these finals, Bill Russell was averaging 21.7 points and 24.8 rebounds. The big man put up remarkable performances night in and night out. With Elgin Baylor and Jerry West on the opposing team, the then 28-year-old knew a big performance was needed to secure a championship for the fourth year in a row.
Russell put up 30 points and an absurd 40 rebounds to lift the Celtics over the Lakers, 110-107. A monstrous outing from the legend in the making.
The 6-foot-10 center brought down 19 boards alone in the fourth quarter – the most rebounds in a single quarter ever. A record that still stands today.
Best NBA Season:
Bill Russell’s best NBA season came in 1961. In 76 games for the Boston Celtics, the Monroe, Louisiana native averaged 18.9 points, 23.6 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. Shooting 45% from the floor, Russell was a brutal force to slow down for opposing teams.
While blocks and steals weren’t recorded until 1973, it’s safe to say Russell would have filled up the stat sheet in those defensive categories as well.
The First of Eleven NBA Championships:
The USF standout was drafted in 1956, and success from his previous destinations would follow him into the Association. Russell capped off an unreal rookie season with the C’s, averaging 14.7 points, 19.6 rebounds, and 1.8 assists with an NBA championship.
In the closing minutes of Game 7 in the 1957 Finals, Russell would save the season with a left-handed layup and a chase-down block on Jack Coleman to send the game into overtime. Boston would win the game in overtime behind the freshman big man’s 19-point, 32-rebound outing.
In his very first year in the league, Russell accomplished what multiple players have chased their whole careers.
Run to the 1969 NBA Championship:
In 1969, the Boston Celtics made the playoffs as the fourth seed in the Eastern Division. Reaching the ’69 Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics were big underdogs. LA was favored by a huge margin, but the C’s never let the outside noise get in.
In a seven-game series, the green and white did the unthinkable and defeated the Lakers 108-106 to win the final NBA championship of the Bill Russell era. Mr. 11 Rings was born.
A team on the brink of missing the postseason managed to take down a stacked Lakers team. A team that, despite losing, still managed to take the NBA Finals MVP as Jerry West took home the hardware in a losing effort.
In the 1966 NBA season, Red Auerbach hired Bill Russell as a player-coach under the legendary cigar-smoking bench boss. Russell would help lead the C’s to NBA championships in 1968 and 1969, on and off the court.
The Celtic legend displayed outstanding leadership and knowledge of the game and managed to find coaching jobs elsewhere post-retirement. Russell would finish his coaching career above .500 with a 341-290 record. A good enough mark to get a second pass into the Hall of Fame for his coaching accomplishments.
Becoming the first black coach in the NBA, Russell changed the shape of the NBA forever.
Additional facts about the Hall of Famer:
– Bill Russell finished his career as an 11-time NBA Champion. Nine championships as a player and two titles as a coach. The most in NBA history.
– Only NBA player to be named to the NBA’s official 25th, 35th, 50th, and 75th anniversary teams.
– Olympic Gold Medalist
– Two-time National Champion (USF)
– Five-time league MVP
– NBA finals record for most rebounds in a game (40)
– 1st rookie to average over 20 rebounds per game
– One of the first NBA players to win an NCAA championship and an NBA championship in back-to-back years. (Magic Johnson, Henry Bibby, and Billy Thompson were the others.
Bill Russell’s death may be one of the most impactful in sports history. While a great may be gone, his legend will live forever.