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Mon, 02.12.1934

Bill Russell, Basketball Player, Coach, and Activist born

Bill Russell

*Bill Russell was born on this date in 1934. He was a Black professional basketball player and coach.

From Monroe, LA, William Felton Russell attended McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif.  It was at USF that Russell cultivated his skills under Hall of Fame Coach Phil Woolpert. Russell was a dominant collegian and teamed with K.C. Jones to make USF one of college basketball's most successful teams. Russell led the Dons to 55 consecutive victories and the 1955 and 1956 NCAA championships.  After this, he finished College at the University of San Francisco, was drafted (third overall) by the St. Louis Hawks in 1956, and traded to the Boston Celtics.

Russell earned All-America honors from both championships and was named national Player of the Year in 1956. Russell waited on his professional career to play in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia, where he led the U.S. to an 8-0 record and the gold medal. His on-court legacy can be defined in three words; Defense wins championships. Before Russell brought his defensive and shot-blocking skills to basketball, the game focused primarily on offense.  He was arguably the most significant defensive center in the history of basketball.  Russell played in 48 of the Boston Celtics' 72 games as a rookie, and his presence in the Celtics' lineup began a dynasty in Boston rivaled in sports only by John Wooden's UCLA Bruins and baseball's New York Yankees.

During his career, Boston won 11 NBA championships, including eight consecutive from 1959 to 1966. Russell's head-to-head battles with Wilt Chamberlain in the 1950s and 1960s are legendary. In their first highly anticipated showdown on Nov. 7, 1959, Russell grabbed an incredible 35 rebounds, and Boston won 115-106. Russell's honors include five-time league MVP (1958, 1961-63, 1965), 12-time All-Star Game participant (MVP in 1963), Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1968, and The Sporting News Athlete of the Decade in 1970. Russell, who once had 51 rebounds in a game against Syracuse in 1960, led the NBA in rebounding five times and grabbed 21,620 rebounds (second all-time), averaged 15.1 ppg and 22.5 RPG for his career.

At the beginning of the 1967 season, the Celtics named Russell to succeed Red Auerbach as head coach, making him the first Black NBA head coach. Russell served as player/coach from 1967 to 1969 and led Boston to the 1968 and 1969 NBA titles.

As an activist, he sat in the front row at Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic "I Have A Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. He — along with Black teammates — boycotted a game in Kentucky when a restaurant denied them service. He joined other prominent Black athletes in supporting boxer Muhammad Ali, who refused to join the military during the Vietnam War.  He was also a pallbearer at  Jackie Robinson’s funeral in 1972.

Russell was named to the All-NBA 25th and 35th Anniversary Teams in 1970 and 1980 and the All-NBA 50th Team in 1996.  Former President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom in 2011, the nation's highest civilian honor.  And in 2017, the NBA awarded him with its Lifetime Achievement Award.  Bill Russell died on July 31, 2022

To become a Coach

To become a Professional Athlete


Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1000 West Columbus Avenue
Springfield, MA 01105
Phone: (413) 781-6500 or (877) 4HOOPLA
Fax: (413) 781-1939

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