February as you know is Black History Month, so it's only right that we pay homage to some of the black kings and queens that has contributed to society on and off the court. Today we will look one of the greatest NBA players to step on the hardwood, Bill Russell.
First and foremost lets wish Mr. Russell a happy birthday, who turned 81 today. Bill Russell at his time, and for awhile after that, was the greatest basketball player ever. At the University of San Francisco, people were already saying he was one of the greatest basketball players ever, winning two National Championships and an Olympic gold medal. In his first collegiate game he played, he blocked his counterpart, who was a pre-season All-American, first 5 shots, something that was never seen before at that time. When he came to the Celtics, Red Auerbach told Bill he didn’t know what he was doing, speaking of Russell's above-the-rim abilities, but he will implement it into his game plan. The Celtics then went on to become one of the best teams to run the fast break because of Russell ability to rebound.
Bill was a very unique player at that time, turning the game of basketball into a vertical game. He dominated the boards better than anyone ever seen and bought blocking into the game of basketball. Back then, they didn’t keep blocks as a stat because it was so foreign but if they did I’m sure Bill’s blocks would be in the thousands. But the most prestigious stat for Bill Russell is his 11 NBA titles in 13 years. He wasn’t the only great player on that team but he was the anchor. To go along with those 11 titles, he also has 5 MVPs. When he won the MVP in 1962, Wilt Chamberlain averaged 50 points and 25 rebounds, Oscar Robertson averaged 30 points 12 boards and 11 dimes but Russell’s Celtics were the first team to win 60 games in a season while he averaged 19 points and 23 rebounds. Despite all the championships and greatness, Bill still wasn’t admired, not even in his hometown.
The most surprising thing about Bill Russell career is that the city of Boston did not appreciate him. Despite winning 11 titles, the Celtics rarely sold out and only average 8,000 people in the arena. When they took a poll to see what was the reason behind that, majority of the Boston citizens said that the Celtics had too many black players. The Boston Bruins, the all white hockey team, during Bill Russell career from 1956-1969 only went to the playoffs 5 times, never bringing home a title but yet they were selling out.
After Bob Cousy retired in 1963, a fan asked Bill what would the Celtics be without him, obviously the man didn’t realize that Bill Russell had won 4 MVPs up to that point. In 1956, when he was selected 2nd overall by the St. Louis Hawks, Russell said if he had to play for them he would not have played in the NBA because St. Louis was one of the most racist city in the country. While winning championships and MVPs, Russell was also very active in the civil rights movement with other black athletes like Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Despite being the best player on the team, it was many of times where Russell had to sleep in different hotels, separate from his white teammates. No matter what though the man still became one of the greatest basketball players ever.