Legacy, prize list… Bill Russell, the NBA’s greatest legend

Died on July 31, 2022 at the age of 88, Bill Russell was an icon of American basketball, both thanks to his exploits on the NBA floor and off. Indeed, his actions off the field elevated him to the pantheon of the most influential sportsmen of his generation. On the occasion of the release of a Netflix documentary that traces all the stages of his life, Business Cool looks back on the journey of one of the greatest legends in the history of sport.

Bill Russell’s youth

William Felton Russell known as “Bill” Russell was born on February 12, 1934 in the city of Monroe, Louisiana. Faced with the segregation and racism characteristic of that time, Bill and his family decided to move to Oakland, California, not far from San Francisco. If he excelled in athletics, he did not show a particular predisposition for basketball, although his physical characteristics were unusual at the time.

With so much difficulty in the basics of basketball, Bill Russell was not even kept on his college team. His stability, a quality that will define his character throughout his life, will allow him to include the high school of McClymonds High School. If he was little used in his first year, he persevered and gradually asserted himself as a determined defender. Then he caught the eye of a recruiter from the University of San Francisco who offered him a scholarship to join his team: young Bill’s career was launched.

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Bill Russell’s Sports Career

Bill Russell’s College Career

In 1953, Bill Russell joined the team of Donations of San Francisco, where he would play four seasons. He was then famous for his iron defense and his qualities as a blocker: he was the most feared defender in the whole country, from his height of 2m06. Because of this reputation, he twice led his team to the NCAA title in 1955 and 1956, the highest collective distinction at a university in the United States. He was also elected MOP (Best Player) to the team’s first crown and established himself as one of the future big names in world basketball.

If his basketball achievements speak for him, Bill Russell also participates in athletics events and excels in two events: the 400m and the high jump. In 1956, fresh from his second NCAA crown, he won the high jump events at the Association of American Universities competitions in California, where he achieved one of the best time performances by clearing 2m06 : an athlete as rare there. existed at that time.

Despite an obvious predisposition to jump and run, Bill Russell entered the 1956 NBA Draft and put athletics aside to focus 100% on basketball.

Bill Russell’s NBA career

His basketball career alone is enough to give him a comfortable place among the greatest legends in NBA history, and sports history in general. The most successful player in the history of American team sports with eleven championships won with the Boston Celtics (in twelve finals), 12-time All-Star, 22.5 rebounds per game career average… The list of his done is clear. By comparison, Michael Jordan, considered the greatest player in history, won “only” six titles.

If the legend of Bill Russell was built by his individual and collective exploits with the Celtics, we should not forget that his rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain, another legend of the game, also participated in the glorification of his career. The two pivots were the two emblematic figures of the NBA at that time and contributed greatly to the development of the Great League and a game that became a practice around the world.

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Bill Russell’s track record

His collective record

Bill Russell is the most decorated player in NBA history with 11 league titles, won between 1957 and 1968 with the Boston Celtics. Only the 1958 and 1967 titles eluded him during these thirteen years of (almost) unchallenged dominance. He was also Olympic champion in 1956, and NCAA champion in 1955 and 1956.

His personal differences

  • 12 time All Star
  • 5 time MVP (Most Valuable Player)
  • 4 times best rebounder in the league
  • 2nd best rebounder in history with 21,620 rebounds
  • 1962 All-Star Game MVP
  • Sportsman of the Year in 1968 according to the magazine Sports Illustrated
  • Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975
  • Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, the highest civilian honor, presented by Barack Obama

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Bill Russell, a legend beyond basketball

Bill Russell is also one and above all the symbols of the fight for the civil rights of African-Americans, along with many personalities of the time, such as Mohammed Ali. From the beginning of the 1960s, when the United States was plagued by racial segregation. When he arrived in the NBA, Bill Russell ended up in a league that was still overwhelmingly white. Through sport, he became the leader of an African-American community that was the target of discriminatory measures in many states. To see a black player dominate in a major league was a true revolution for North American sport.

He will not tolerate anything that discriminates in any way, even going as far as feuding with Celtics fans and the city of Boston for decades. Each passing day was a further advance in his quest for equality between all ethnic groups, so in 1964, the Boston Celtics were the first team to field five black starters. Two years later, Bill Russell became the first African-American coach in the history of professional team sports in the United States and won three titles (he occupied the role of coach-player).

The Civil Rights Act in 1964, ending all forms of segregation, discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin felt like a real victory for Bill Russell and all those who gave body and soul to get there: the greatest victory of his life, without a doubt.

The Legacy of Bill Russell

Bill Russell is still considered the greatest defenseman in basketball history; he was a great inspiration for all the great players (in size) who came after him. If he is recognized as a true legend of this sport through his personal sporting achievements and his list of prizes, his political positions and his fight against segregation there is no doubt that he greatest achievement and constant source of inspiration. for new generations in a world where racism is still present.

In 2011, he became the first NBA player to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in Uncle Sam’s countries, a testament to his impact on American society throughout his life. Despite his retirement and relatively advanced age, he still remains an example for a large number of players today. His sheer will to win has marked and will continue to mark beyond the borders of basketball, making him an icon of the collective sport as a whole. Following the announcement of his death, the NBA issued a press release to pay tribute to the greatness of the player and the man. Bill Russell is also about humility. His track record has never caused him to put himself out too much going forward and he can see with great eyes the increase in talent emerging in the league.

During the 2022-23 season, the jerseys of thirty NBA franchises will be decorated with the number 6. This same number will be retired by all NBA franchises, the first in the history of American basketball, as a sign of a final recognition

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