Bill Russell, who led the Boston Celtics to 11 world championships during his 13 years in the NBA, the final two as the league’s first African-American player-coach, died at 88 on Sun., July 31.
By comparison, Michael Jordon, arguably the best basketball player of all time, led the Chicago Bulls to six championships during his 15 seasons in the NBA, and Kobe Bryant won five championship rings during the 20 years he played for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Stephen Curry, 13 seasons in the NBA; and LeBron James, 19 years in the NBA; have four championship rings apiece.
Russell won his final two rings in 1968 and 1969 as player-coach of the Celtics, and in 1996 he was honored by being named to the NBA 50 Greatest Players.
No player in the NBA has won more championship rings as a player than Russell won, and he became the first player in NBA history to be drafted from the championship team of the NCAA and win a championship ring his rookie season in the NBA. During his junior and senior years at the University of San Francisco, he led the Dons to back to back NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956.
Russell excelled at blocking shots, playing hard-nose, man to man defense, rebounding at both ends of the court and passing accurately to setup his teammates for open shots. The consummate team player, he excelled in every phase of the game, and during the summer Olympics in 1956, he served as the team captain in leading the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team to win gold.
In 1962, Wilt Chamberlain, arguably the best player in the history of the NBA as is Jordan, averaged 50.4 points per game and 25.7 rebounds per game, but Russell won the MVP Award after helping the Celtics win another championship by averaging 23.7 points per game, hauling down an average of 18.9 rebounds per game and dishing out an average of 4.5 assists per game. He won four more MVP awards during his career.
Russell, who stood at 6’10,” was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, and he was honored by being included as a member of the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team in 2021.
Former President Barrack Obama awarded Russell, an active civil rights activist, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, and he reacted to Russell’s death, by saying that he had learned so much from watching Russell play basketball. Obama concluded, “We lost a giant.”