Bill Russell, Boston Celtics legend and 11-time NBA champion, dies at 88 (2022)

Bill Russell, the cornerstone of the Boston Celtics' dynasty that won eight straight titles and 11 overall during his career, died Sunday. The Hall of Famer was 88.

Over a 15-year period, beginning with his junior year at the University of San Francisco, Russell had the most remarkable career of any player in the history of team sports. At USF, he was a two time All-American, won two straight NCAA championships and led the team to 55 consecutive wins. And he won a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics.

During his 13 years in Boston, he carried the Celtics to the NBA Finals 12 times, winning the championship 11 times. The one year the Celtics lost, in 1958 to the St. Louis Hawks, the series was tied 2-2 when Russell got hurt and was hospitalized. The Celtics lost the next two games by a total of three points.

A five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star, Russell was an uncanny shot blocker who revolutionized NBA defensive concepts. He finished with 21,620 career rebounds -- an average of 22.5 per game -- and led the league in rebounding four times. He had 51 rebounds in one game, 49 in two others and 12 straight seasons of 1,000 or more rebounds. Russell also averaged 15.1 points and 4.3 assists per game over his career.

Until Michael Jordan's exploits in the 1990s, Russell was considered by many as the greatest player in NBA history.

Russell was awarded the Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2011, the nation's highest civilian honor. And in 2017, the NBA awarded him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.

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William Felton Russell was born Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana. His family moved to the Bay Area, where he attended McClymonds High School in Oakland. He was an awkward, unremarkable center on McClymonds' basketball team, but his size earned him a scholarship at San Francisco, where he blossomed.

"I was an innovator," Russell told The New York Times in 2011. "I started blocking shots although I had never seen shots blocked before that. The first time I did that in a game, my coach called timeout and said, 'No good defensive player ever leaves his feet.'"

Russell did it anyway, and he teamed with guard K.C. Jones to lead the Dons to 55 straight wins and national titles in 1955 and 1956. (Jones missed four games of the 1956 tournament because his eligibility had expired.) Russell was named the NCAA tournament Most Outstanding Player in 1955. He then led the U.S. basketball team to victory in the 1956 Olympics at Melbourne, Australia.

With the 1956 NBA draft approaching, Celtics coach and general manager Red Auerbach was eager to add Russell to his lineup. Auerbach had built a high-scoring offensive machine around guards Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman and undersized center Ed Macauley but thought the Celtics lacked the defense and rebounding needed to transform them into a championship-caliber club. Russell, Auerbach felt, was the missing piece to the puzzle.

(Video) Bill Russell, Boston Celtics legend and 11-time champion, dead at 88

After the St. Louis Hawks selected Russell in the 1956 draft, Auerbach engineered a trade to land Russell for Ed Macauley.

Boston's starting five of Russell, Tommy Heinsohn, Cousy, Sharman and Jim Loscutoff was a high-octane unit. The Celtics posted the best regular-season record in the NBA in 1956-57 and waltzed through the playoffs for their first NBA title, beating the Hawks.

In a rematch in the 1958 NBA Finals, the Celtics and Hawks split the first two games at Boston Garden. But Russell suffered an ankle injury in Game 3 and was ineffective the remainder of the series. The Hawks eventually won the series in the six games.

Russell and the Celtics had a stranglehold on the NBA Finals after that, going on to win 10 titles in 11 years and giving professional basketball a level of prestige it had not enjoyed before.

In the process, Russell revolutionized the game. He was a 6-foot-9 center whose lightning reflexes brought shot-blocking and other defensive maneuvers that trigger a fast-break offense into full development.

In 1966, after eight straight titles, Auerbach retired as coach and named Russell as his successor. This was hailed as a sociological advance, since Russell was the first Black coach of a major league team in any sport, let alone so distinguished a team. But neither Russell nor Auerbach saw the move that way. They felt it was simply the best way to keep winning, and as a player-coach, Russell won two more titles in the next three years.

Their biggest opponent was age. After he won his 11th championship in 1969 at age 35, Russell retired, triggering a mini-Boston rebuild. During his 13 seasons, the NBA had expanded from eight teams to 14. Russell didn't have to survive more than three playoff rounds to win a title.

(Video) Bill Russell, 11-time NBA champion, Boston Celtics Legend, Civil Rights Activist dies at 88

Bill Russell, Boston Celtics legend and 11-time NBA champion, dies at 88 (1)

"If Bill Russell came back today with the same equipment and the same brainpower, the same person exactly as he was when he landed in the NBA in 1956, he'd be the best rebounder in the league," Bob Ryan, a former Celtics beat writer for the Boston Globe, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2019. "As an athlete, he was so far ahead of his time. He'd win three, four or five championships, but not 11 in 13 years, obviously."

Along with multiple titles, Russell's career also was partly defined with his rivalry against Wilt Chamberlain.

In the 1959-60 season, the 7-foot-1 Chamberlain, who averaged a record 37.6 points per game in his rookie year, made his debut with the Philadelphia Warriors. On Nov. 7, 1959, Russell's Celtics hosted Chamberlain's Warriors, and pundits called the matchup between the best offensive and defensive centers "The Big Collision" and "Battle of the Titans." While Chamberlain outscored Russell 30-22, the Celtics won 115-106, and the game was called a "new beginning of basketball."

The matchup between Russell and Chamberlain became one of basketball's greatest rivalries. One of Celtics' titles came against Wilt Chamberlain's San Francisco's Warriors teams in 1964.

Although Chamberlain outrebounded and outscored Russell over the course of their 142 career games (28.7 rebounds per game to 23.7, 28.7 points per game to 14.5) and their entire career (22.9 RPG to 22.5, 30.1 PPG to 15.1), Russell usually got the nod as the better overall player, mainly because his teams won 87 (61%) of those games.

In the eight playoff series between the two, Russell and the Celtics won seven. Russell has 11 championship rings; Chamberlain has just two, and only one was won against Russell's Celtics.

(Video) Bill Russell, Boston Celtics legend and 11-time champion, dead at 88

"I was the villain because I was so much bigger and stronger than anyone else out there," Chamberlain told the Boston Herald in 1995. "People tend not to root for Goliath, and Bill back then was a jovial guy and he really had a great laugh. Plus, he played on the greatest team ever.

"My team was losing and his was winning, so it would be natural that I would be jealous. Not true. I'm more than happy with the way things turned out. He was overall by far the best, and that only helped bring out the best in me."

After Russell retired from basketball, his place in its history secure, he moved into broader spheres, hosting radio and television talk shows and writing newspaper columns on general topics.

In 1973, Russell took over the Seattle SuperSonics, then a six-year-old expansion franchise that had never made the playoffs, as coach and general manager. The year before, the Sonics had won 26 games and sold 350 season tickets. Under Russell, they won 36, 43, 43 and 40, making the playoffs twice. When he resigned, they had a solid base of 5,000 season tickets and the material to reach the NBA Finals series the next two years.

Russell reportedly became frustrated at the players' reluctance to embrace his team concept. Some suggested that the problem was Russell himself; he was said to be aloof, moody and unable to accept anything but the Celtics' tradition. Ironically, Lenny Wilkens guided Seattle to a championship two years later, preaching the same team concept that Russell had tried to instill unsuccessfully.

A decade after he left Seattle, Russell gave coaching another try, replacing Jerry Reynolds as coach of the Sacramento Kings early in the 1987-88 season. The team staggered to a 17-41 record, and Russell departed midseason.

Between coaching stints, Russell was most visible as a color commentator on televised basketball games. For a time he was paired with the equally blunt Rick Barry, and the duo provided brutally frank commentary on the game. Russell was never comfortable in that setting, though, explaining to the Sacramento Bee, "The most successful television is done in eight-second thoughts, and the things I know about basketball, motivation and people go deeper than that."

He also dabbled with acting, performing in a Seattle Children's Theatre show and an episode of "Miami Vice," and he wrote a provocative autobiography, "Second Wind."

In 1974, Russell was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and in 1980, he was voted Greatest Player in the History of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America. He was part of the 75th Anniversary Team announced by the NBA in October 2021.

In 2013, Boston honored Russell with a statue at City Hall Plaza.

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(Video) Celtics legend Bill Russell, 11-time NBA champion, dies at 88

FAQs

Did Bill Russell won 11 rings in a row? ›

Boston Celtics center Bill Russell holds the record for the most NBA championships won with 11 titles during his 13-year playing career. He won his first championship with the Boston Celtics in his rookie year.

Did Bill Russell pass? ›

“Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at age 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side. Arrangements for his memorial service will be announced soon.”

How many times did Bill russel lose the Finals? ›

Bill Russell came up short 25 times in the NBA Finals in his career.
NAMESERIESL
Bill RussellNBA Finals25

How many rings did Bill Russell win as a player? ›

In 13 seasons, Russell won 11 NBA championships (1957, 1959–66, and 1968–69). For good measure, he might have had 12, had an ankle injury not sidelined him early in the 1958 NBA finals.

Who's the best basketball player in history? ›

1. Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is widely known as the game's greatest player—and for good reason. "MJ" accomplished everything possible in the game, piling up on the stats and awards.

What was Bill Russell's vertical leap? ›

I don't know if that is true, but Russell was an Olympic-caliber high-jumper in college, once winning the West Coast Relays with a jump of 6 feet, 9 ¼ inches, just ¾ inches shorter than his own listed height.

Where was Bill Russell living when he died? ›

Russell died Sunday at the age of 88, with his wife, Jeannine, at his side, his family said in a statement posted on social media. No cause of death was immediately available; Russell, who had been living in the Seattle area, was not well enough to present the NBA Finals MVP trophy in June due to a long illness.

How much is Bill Worth Russell worth? ›

Bill Russell was reportedly worth $10 million at the time of his death. It's only a fraction of what professional players make today, as Russell played in an era when salaries weren't too high. His rookie deal in 1956 was $24,000.

Who is the best Celtics player ever? ›

1. Bill Russell. Career Accomplishments with Boston: 11 NBA titles, five MVPs, 12-time NBA All-Star, five-time rebounding champion, No.

Who was better Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain? ›

Russell won more NBA MVP awards than Chamberlain — five to four. While Russell was always crowned the ultimate team player — and deservedly so — Chamberlain — who once averaged 50 points in a season and scored 100 points in game — was always seen as a great individual.

Who has the most losses in Finals history? ›

The Los Angeles Lakers have the most series losses by a team in the NBA Finals, with 15 losses.

What player has the most losses in the NBA? ›

Vince Carter has lost the most career games, with 756 losses.

Who is better Bill Russell or Jordan? ›

That's because Bill Russell, who died Sunday at 88, was the greatest winner of all time — in any major sport. Jordan won six NBA championships, an NCAA title and two Olympic gold medals. Russell won 11 NBA titles, two NCAA championships and an Olympic gold medal. Russell played 21 winner-take-all games and went 21-0.

Who has the most NBA championship rings player or coach? ›

Former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson has won eleven NBA championships, the most in NBA history.

What did Bill Russell died of? ›

Who is the greatest player of all time? ›

The list
RankPlayerYear inducted to Pro Football Hall of Fame
1Jerry Rice2010
2Jim Brown1971
3Lawrence Taylor1999
4Joe Montana2000
91 more rows

Who is the richest basketball player? ›

According to Forbes, Michael Jordan is NBA's richest player with a humongous net worth of US$1.7 billion. He earned US$90 million in salaries during his basketball career, but reportedly made US$1.8 billion (pre-tax) for endorsement deals from brands like Nike, Gatorade and Hanes.

Who is the greatest athlete of all time? ›

Greatest Athletes of All Time
  • 8) Babe Ruth. ...
  • 7) Deion Sanders. ...
  • 6) Pele. ...
  • 5) Michael Jordan. ...
  • 4) Muhammad Ali. ...
  • 3) Jim Thorpe. ...
  • 2) Bo Jackson. ...
  • 1) Jim Brown. In high school, he earned 13 letters playing five sports: football, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, and track.

What is the highest vertical jump in NBA history? ›

Moreover, he enjoyed a successful NBA career with the Jazz. At 6 feet 4 inches and 48-inch vertical jumps, Griffith can lift his head 4 inches above the rim. This 48-inch figure is also the highest vertical jump NBA of all time – the same record as Michael Jordan.

What is the highest vertical jump in history? ›

The 3 Highest Vertical Jump World Records To Ever Be Reached
  • Highest Vertical Jump Records Ever Reached.
  • Highest Standing Vertical Jump: 46″ Official NBA Record: 39.5″ (100.3 cm) ...
  • Highest Running Vertical Jump: 45.5″ ...
  • Why Do NFL Players Jump Higher than NBA Players? ...
  • Highest Platform Vertical Jump: 65″ ...
  • Summary.
  • Conclusion.

Who has a 48-inch vertical? ›

Tennessee freshman Keon Johnson recorded a max vertical jump of 48 inches Wednesday to break the NBA Draft Combine record in the drill.

What is a famous quote from Bill Russell? ›

Inspirational Quotes From Russell

Concentration and mental toughness are the margins of victory.” “You can do anything you want to do if you want it bad enough.” “Commitment separates those who live their dreams from those who live their lives regretting the opportunities they have squandered.”

How much money did Bill Russell have? ›

Bill Russell was a legendart American basketball player who had a net worth of $10 million at the time of his death.

Where is Bill Russell's funeral? ›

But earlier in the day, NBA commissioner Adam Silver revealed the tribute to the small group of mourners at Russell's private funeral in Seattle.

What is Bill Russell's illness? ›

At age 78, in 2012, Russell had open heart surgery to replace a valve in his heart. In 2014, at age 80, he was hospitalized after collapsing at a speaking engagement, and in 2018, at age 84, he was hospitalized for a day.

What is Lebron James net worth? ›

What is Larry Bird's net worth in 2022? ›

Larry Bird Net Worth
NameLarry Joe Bird
Net WorthApproximately $75 million
Age64 years (December 7, 1956)
ResidenceFrench Lick, Indiana
Marital StatusMarried
3 more rows

Who was better Bird or Russell? ›

Bird averaged 24.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, while Russell averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game, second all-time, in their 13-year Hall of Fame careers with Boston. Russell won 11 championships and Bird won three, accounting for 14 of the Celtics' 17 titles, most of any team in NBA history.

Who was the first black Boston Celtic player? ›

On April 25, 1950, Charles “Chuck” Cooper made history when he became the first African-American player to be drafted by an NBA team. The Boston Celtics, led by influential owner Walter Brown and his persuasive sidekick Red Auerbach, selected Cooper with the 13th overall pick in the second round.

Who was the best player on the Celtics in the 60s? ›

Bill Russell

How many times did Wilt block Kareem skyhook? ›

Wilt Chamberlain blocked Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 5 times in a 12-minute span. In their head-to-head battles, Kareem averaged a staggering 31.8 points, 15.8 rebounds, and 3.6 blocks per game. Whereas, Wilt the Stilt put up 16.3 points, 17.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists.

Did Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain like each other? ›

It was undoubtedly a privilege to see the Philadelphia 76ers' Wilt Chamberlain face off against the Boston Celtics' Bill Russell. Despite that, Russell and Chamberlain had one of the best relationships in the NBA, because of how their relationship worked.

How much was Wilt Chamberlain worth at death? ›

Wilt Chamberlain was an American basketball player who had a net worth equal to $10 million at the time of his death. Chamberlain is widely considered to be one of the greatest NBA players of all time, and he played for the Philadelphia/San Francisco Warriors, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Which football player has lost the most finals? ›

Carlos Tevez (8 finals)

But, Tevez has lost the unenviable number of 8 finals during his career at a club and international level. He lost three Copa America with Argentina (2004, 2007 and 2015), one Confederations Cup in 2005 plus two Copa Libertadores (2004 and 2018) and two UEFA Champions League (2009 and 2015).

What NBA team has never lost in the finals? ›

(Note: Six franchises — the Charlotte Hornets, Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and New Orleans Pelicans — have never reached The Finals.
...
How long has it been since each team last made The Finals?
TeamPhoenix Suns
First Finals appearance1976
Last Finals appearance1993
Current drought (years)27
29 more columns

What NBA player has the most playoff losses? ›

Derek Fisher has lost the most career games in the playoffs, with 98 losses.

Who made the longest shot in NBA history? ›

Baron Davis holds the record for longest NBA field goal; on February 17, 2001, as a member of the Charlotte Hornets, he successfully made an 89-foot shot while visiting the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center.

Who is the losingest coach in NBA history? ›

Lenny Wilkens has lost the most games by a coach, with 1,155 losses.

Which player has the most wins in NBA history? ›

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most career wins, with 1,074 wins.

Did Shaq buy Bill Russell's rings? ›

Lakers: Shaquille O'Neal Buying All of Bill Russell's NBA Championship Rings.

Who is better Bill Russell or Jordan? ›

That's because Bill Russell, who died Sunday at 88, was the greatest winner of all time — in any major sport. Jordan won six NBA championships, an NCAA title and two Olympic gold medals. Russell won 11 NBA titles, two NCAA championships and an Olympic gold medal. Russell played 21 winner-take-all games and went 21-0.

Who has the second most rings in the NBA? ›

Michael Jordan is the greatest champion in NBA history. His six rings count more than Bill Russell's 11, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's six, or Kobe Bryant's five.

Who has the most NBA championship rings player or coach? ›

Former Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls head coach Phil Jackson has won eleven NBA championships, the most in NBA history.

Who was better Bill Russell or Wilt Chamberlain? ›

Russell won more NBA MVP awards than Chamberlain — five to four. While Russell was always crowned the ultimate team player — and deservedly so — Chamberlain — who once averaged 50 points in a season and scored 100 points in game — was always seen as a great individual.

Do NBA players pay for their championship rings? ›

Championship rings are distributed by and paid for by the winning team (although some leagues may partially subsidize the cost), in contrast to medals which are awarded by the league or competition governing body.

Why is Russell selling his rings? ›

Russell said another reason he decided to sell the items was to provide a portion of the proceeds for the Boston-based nonprofit MENTOR, which he co-founded more than three decades ago. The group's aim is to strengthen mentoring relationships.

Who is better than Michael Jordan? ›

LeBron James' statistics indicate that he is a much better overall basketball player. While Jordan scored more overall, LeBron is a more efficient player, shooting better from two and three-point range. LeBron is also a much better passer and rebounder than Jordan ever was.

What did Bill Russell say to Michael Jordan? ›

Bill had an ice-cold response to one of the greatest trash-talkers in NBA history, bluntly telling Jordan that he doesn't think the Bulls can win 11 titles or win 8 titles in a row as Russell did. Michael Jordan to Bill Russell: "We're gonna come after your record." Bill Russell: "Which one?"

Who is Bill Russell's favorite player? ›

Part of Russell's incredible NBA legacy was his continued appreciation for and impact on the game of basketball. Among the players who Russell strongly admired was Tim Duncan — even going as far as to call him his favorite player.

Who has the most rings in any sport? ›

And the winningest winner in sports history is none other than basketball legend Bill Russell. Russell led the University of San Francisco to three Final Fours and two National Championships while averaging upwards of 20 points and 20 rebounds throughout his college career.

What active NBA player has the most rings? ›

Active players with most NBA championship rings
  • LeBron. James. (4)
  • Stephen. Curry. (4)
  • Klay. Thompson. (4)
  • Draymond. Green. (4)
  • Danny. Green. (3)
  • JaVale. McGee. (3)

Which player have the Most NBA Rings? ›

The world lost a great winner and civil rights icon Sunday when it was announced that Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell had died peacefully at the age of 88. Russell is, quite simply, the greatest winner in NBA history and arguably in all of team sports.

Who has the most rings as a coach and a player? ›

11 titles (9 as player and 2 as player-coach)

Bill Russell holds the record for most NBA championships as a player. The Boston Celtics legend won 11 NBA titles in his thirteen-year playing career. He became player-coach in 1966 and led the Celtics to two consecutive titles in 1968 and 1969.

Who is the best NBA coach of all time? ›

Phil Jackson has the NBA record for titles as a head coach with 11, winning three championships in a row on three separate occasions with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers (1991-1993, 1996-1998, 2000-2002), as well as another back-to-back title in 2009 and 2010 with the Lakers.

How many rings does Phil Jackson have total as a coach? ›

In total, Phil Jackson has 13 NBA rings, 2 of them (1970, 1973) are from his time as a player with the New York Knicks and 11 are as a head coach (6 with Chicago Bulls and 5 with Los Angeles Lakers). There have been many incredible coaches in NBA history, but few of them have Jackson's pedigree.

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