Bill Russell Bio And Facts
William Felton Russell (more commonly known as Bill) was an extraordinary basketball player who played in the NBA from 1956 to 1969. He was known for his intimidating defense, leadership, and winning resume, as his teams won a championship almost every year he played for them. He won a total of 11 NBA Championships in the 13 seasons he played in the league, including eight in a row from 1959-1966. He also won two NCAA National Championships with the University of San Francisco.
While Russell wasn’t necessarily a prolific scorer (only averaged 15.1 points per game for his career) he was an outstanding defender and leader. Russell was even made a player coach, starting in 1966, until his retirement in 1969.
On top of being a great player, Bill Russell has always been a civil rights activist. Being an African-American playing in the city of Boston, as well as in a league dominated by white players at the time, becoming an activist was something Russell was extremely passionate about. Bill Russell passed away peacefully on July 31st, 2022 and received an outpour of support from the NBA community and fans around the world.
- Birthday: February 12th, 1934 (12-02-1934)
- Date of Death: July 31st, 2022 (07-31-2022)
- Education: University of San Francisco (1953-1956)
- Net Worth: $10 million
- Occupation: Professional basketball player
- Height: 6’9” (2.06 m)
- Weight: 215 lbs (97.52 kg)
- Position: Center
- Years Active: 13
- Career Wins: 341
- Career Losses: 290
- Nicknames: Bill, Mr. 11 Rings, The Secretary of Defense, Russ, Whiskers, Willie, Bill the Hill
- Teams: Boston Celtics
Bill Russell was drafted with the second overall pick in the 1957 NBA Draft by the St. Louis Hawks, but his draft rights were traded to the Celtics in exchange for Ed McCauley and the draft rights to Cliff Hagan. He played all 13 of his seasons with the Celtics. His final career averages for the regular season were 15.1 points per game, 22.5 rebounds per game, and 4.3 assists per game. 22.5 rebounds per game for an entire career is the second best of all time, only behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 22.9 rebounds per game.
Russell’s career averages for the playoffs were even better. His final career averages for the playoffs were 16.2 points per game, 24.9 rebounds per game, and 4.7 assists per game. 24.9 rebounds per game is the all-time highest rebounding average in the playoffs, slightly ahead of Wilt Chamberlain’s 24.5 rebounds per game, and way ahead of the third best average of 14.9 by Wes Unseld. Unfortunately, steals and blocks weren’t kept track in the NBA until the 1973-1974 season, after Russell retired in 1969. Considering Russell’s defensive prowess, he’d probably be up there with some of the best in terms of highest career steal and block averages in NBA history.
Titles and Awards
During Russell’s 13-year professional basketball career, he won the NBA championship every year except his second year, and his third to last year. His jersey (#6) was retired by the Celtics, and he was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.
Some of his most impressive accomplishments other than the previously mentioned 11 championships include:
- 5-time NBA Most Valuable Player
- 12-time NBA All-Star
- Being named to the NBA’s 25th, 35th, 50th, and 75th anniversary teams
- In 1968, he was named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the year
- Won a gold medal with the US Olympic team in 1956
- He also made an All-NBA team 11 times (3 first teams, 8 second teams)
- Won All-Star game MVP during the 1962-1963 season.
Finally, while having nothing to do with statistics or awards, Bill Russell was honored by the Celtics with a statue in Boston back in 2011. The year before that, Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bill Russell grew up in Monroe, Louisiana. Due to racial tension in the south, Russell’s family moved to Oakland, California when he was 10. Early on during his time in Oakland, Russell’s mother died from a bad case of the flu. His mother’s death led to Russell focusing more on school work.
Russell also began playing basketball when he came to Oakland. Russell at first struggled to get playing time while playing at McClymonds High School due to being somewhat uncoordinated. However, by his senior year, he earned a starting spot, his 6 foot 9 height giving him a great advantage.
In 1952, Russell walked-on to the basketball team at the University of San Francisco and earned a scholarship. His career of basketball dominance began from then on. He won two titles with USF, averaging 20.7 points per game, and 20.3 rebounds per game during his college career. He was then drafted 2nd overall, and went on to have an extremely successful 13 year career.
Outside of basketball, Russell has been a civil rights activist since the beginning of his NBA career to this day, and has been married three times with three kids.
- Bill Russell holds the NBA finals record for most rebounds in a game with 40.
- Russell was the first NBA player to average over 20 rebounds a game for a full season, which he did his rookie season.
- Bill Russell is one of only two players in all of American team sports to win 11 championships. The other player is Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens.
- He became the first Black head coach in NBA history when he was hired as a player-coach in 1966. He won two championships out of three years as a player-coach.
- Bill Russell is one of four players to win an NCAA championship and an NBA championship in back-to-back years, joining Henry Bibby, Magic Johnson, and Billy Thompson.
- He never lost a winner-take-all game in the playoffs (10-0 in game 7’s and 1-0 in a game 5 1st round series).
- Bill Russell was host of a Saturday Night Live episode in 1979.
- The Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award is given to the most outstanding player in each year’s NBA Finals. The award was named after him in 2009.
- In 1980, Bill Russell was voted greatest basketball player in NBA history by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America.
Is Bill Russell still considered the best player of all-time today?
Although Bill Russell had one of the most impressive NBA careers ever, he is generally not considered the best player of all-time. As the NBA and fans have become more analytical and delved deeper in NBA history stats, Russell’s accomplishments have started to become diminished. While his accomplishments are still impressive, people have started to question how impressive they actually are, as there were less NBA teams when Russell played, and players weren’t as tall. That has led people to think that both Russell’s championships and stats (mainly rebounds) are heavily inflated.
Russell also wasn’t the best scorer, only averaging 15.1 points per game for his career, and below average shooting and free throw percentages. He also played with many other hall of famers during his career, which people think is the reason he won so many championships. He’s still considered a top 10 to top 20 player all-time to most people nonetheless.
How many other great players did Bill Russell play with?
Bill Russell played with Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, Frank Ramsey, and John Havlicek, all of whom are members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. While not all of those players played with each other at the same time, Russell’s teams were stacked with multiple hall of famers every year.
Who gave Russell and the Celtics problems during his career?
Bill Russell’s stiffest individual competition came from Wilt Chamberlain, another giant at the time who dominated with his rebounding. The main difference between the two was where Russell dominated defensively, Wilt equally dominated offensively. Chamberlain is one of the top scorers of all time, having seasons of 50 points per game averages, and even a 100 point game (most all time in one game).
Another player who gave Russell’s Celtics problems was Jerry West. While Jerry West lost six finals and never beat the Celtics, he was so good in the finals that he managed to win an NBA finals MVP while being on the losing team in 1969. West is also the player whose silhouette is on the NBA logo.
What difficulties did Russell face during his life before his successful basketball career?
Bill Russell dealt with many different illnesses at a young age, and his mother died from an illness of her own when Russell was 12. Russell also had a lot of trouble with sports. He struggled to make the basketball team, football team, and even cheerleading squad. However, in high school, Russell had good fortune. He didn’t make the junior varsity team, but his coach saw potential in him and made him the 16th person on a 15 person team. As Russell played more and more basketball, he became obsessed. When he finally got a single scholarship offer from University of San Francisco, his basketball career took off.