Happy 80th Birthday Bill Russell

To many basketball fans, Michael Jordan is the greatest player and biggest winner of all time, with six NBA titles in his years with the Chicago Bulls.  Jordan may very well be the best player ever, but he’s not the biggest winner in terms of NBA championships. He’s not even close.  That distinction goes to a player who was on the hardwood a generation earlier, and who celebrates his 80th birthday on February 12th, 2014.  That player is former Boston Celtics center Bill Russell.

Russell played for the Celtics from 1956 through 1969.  In his 13 year NBA career, he won a mind boggling 11 NBA titles.  Russell was a complete player, who averaged 15.1 points per game (in an era before the three point basket), 4.3 assists per game, and a whopping 22.5 rebounds per game, second all time only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 22.9.  (By comparison, the rpg leader among active players is Dwight Howard at 12.9).  No one knows how many blocked shots he had since that stat wasn’t officially kept in those days.  He was a player/coach with the Celtics from 1966-69, the first African American head coach in the NBA.

Russell played college basketball at the University of San Francisco.  He won NCAA championships there in 1955 and ’56.  He played on the U.S. Olympic team in 1956, winning the Gold Medal at the Melbourne, Australia games.

During his career, Russell, to put it mildly, did not have much of a relationship with fans or the media. Much of this went back to the racism he experienced, despite his accomplishments on the court. It was the Civil Rights Era, and Russell refused to go along to get along and spoke his mind, including criticizing Boston as a racist city. As time went on, some of the bitterness has eased. In 2013, an eight foot bronze statue of Russell was placed in Boston’s City Hall Plaza. Russell was in attendance at the unveiling ceremony.

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