Bill Russell is the NBA's most overlooked player.

Bill Russell – NBA History’s Overlooked Legend

        Bill Russell was known for his all-time great defensive ability, shot-blocking, and rebounding prowess. Furthermore, he was the most influential leader of one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history. Consequently, Russell would lead the Boston Celtics to eleven titles in thirteen seasons. He would set a precedent for the Celtics’ return to dominance in the Larry Bird era of the 80s. Despite his accomplishments, people often overlook Russell when discussing the best basketball players ever. Why do People Overlook Bill Russell?

        One reason is that the NBA was far less competitive in the 1960s than today. Moreover, the average height in the NBA in 1960 was 6 feet 3.1 inches. By the last season of Russell’s career, the average NBA player’s height increased to 6 feet 3.6 inches. Bill Russell, who stood 6’10,” should not be discredited for his large stature relative to the time. One could argue that he would be just as dominant in the eras after his retirement. In addition, Bill Russell’s offensive statistics are lackluster compared to other legendary players. Furthermore, history has been kinder to big men who were dominant offensively, such as Shaquille O’Neal and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Early Life

        Bill Russell was born in West Monroe, Louisiana, on February 12, 1934. Monroe was a segregated town, and the Russell family dealt with racism often. His parents were victims of multiple racially charged incidents, which helped shape how a young Bill Russell viewed the World. When Russell was seven years old, the United States became involved in the Second World War. Further, this led to the Second Great Migration, where many African-American families moved out West to search for work. The following year, Bill Russell’s family moved to Oakland, California. Moving would not solve the family’s struggles as they would fall into poverty and live in city-owned public housing projects.

The Journey Begins

        Russell possessed a natural gift as an athlete, with a high vertical leap and explosiveness. He was first exposed to basketball relatively late as a middle schooler. He got cut from the Herbert Hoover Junior High team due to his lack of understanding of the fundamentals. Later, Russell attended McClymonds High School, where he was almost cut again as a freshman. Head Coach George Powles decided to keep Russell because of his unique athletic potential. Coach Powles would encourage and mold the future NBA superstar, helping him master the fundamentals of the game.

        In the 1950s, it was far more difficult for African-American players to receive athletic scholarships than it is today. Despite vast improvement, Russell was not given any NCAA offers until the University of San Francisco attended one of his high school games. Recruiter Hal Dejulio sensed that the young man was unique and possessed extraordinary extinct for the game of basketball. Dejulio would offer him a scholarship, which Russell eagerly accepted. Finally, he would head to the University of San Francisco to play for Head Coach Phil Woolpert.

NCAA Career

        Bill Russell would become the starting center for the San Francisco Dons. Coach Woolpert’s system focused on defense and slowing the game down, which catered to Russell’s strengths. His quickness and shot-blocking ability helped establish him as the most feared rim protector in college basketball. Russell’s dominance on the defensive end later resulted in multiple NCAA rule changes. In three seasons at USF, he averaged 20.7 points and 20.3 rebounds. His elite career accomplishments at the NCAA level are listed below.

  • Two-time NCAA National Champion (1955 & 1956)
  • Consensus First Team All-American (1954-55 & 1955-56)
  • 1954-55 Helms Foundation Player of the Year
  • 1955 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player
  • 1955-56 Player of the Year (UPI, Helms Foundation, CBA)
  • NCAA Tournament All-Region (1955 & 1956)
  • NCAA All-Tournament (1955 & 1956)

        After a very successful college career, it was time for Russell to move on from the NCAA to the NBA. The Harlem Globetrotters would recruit him heavily, but he would become angry that owner Abe Saperstein refused to communicate directly with him. Instead, Saperstein would speak with his Head Coach, Phil Woolpert. Russell felt he was being slighted and was very sensitive to racial prejudice. Later, he would declare for the NBA Draft in 1956, where he was a projected top-three selection.

Bill Russell’s Professional Career

        The St. Louis Hawks drafted him second overall in the 1956 NBA Draft. Though; the Hawks would trade him to the Boston Celtics immediately, where he would play his entire career. He has long been regarded as one of the best basketball players ever. Bill Russell would consistently show up when needed, making some of the best plays in NBA history on the defensive side of the ball. Finally, Russell’s career accomplishments in the National Basketball Association are significant.

  • Twelve-time NBA All-Star
  • Eleven-time NBA champion
  • Five-time NBA MVP
  • Three-time All-NBA First Team
  • Eight-time All-NBA Second Team
  • NBA All-Defensive First Team (1969)
  • Four-time NBA Rebounding Champion
  • NBA All-Star Game MVP (1963)
  • Inducted into NBA Hall-of-Fame (in 1975 as a player and 2021 as a coach)
  • The Boston Celtics retired his jersey (#6)
  • The first black head coach in NBA history

        According to Basketball Reference, Russell averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game in the NBA. In addition, he leads the league all-time in Finals appearances (12) and Finals games played (70). Despite only playing thirteen seasons, he is second in career rebounds (21,620). Furthermore, Russell ranks number one all-time (133.6) in defensive win shares by a large margin. Tim Duncan is second all-time in defensive win shares (106.3). 

The NBA’s Winningest Player

        He was one of the most essential pieces of the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1960s. Russell’s influential leadership, exceptional rebounding ability, and elite defensive skills were what he became known for. The Celtics marked their place in this era with one of the most dominant stretches in NBA history. Moreover, this included eight consecutive titles from 1959 to 1966. Previously, this feat was unprecedented in any professional team sport. Again, Bill Russell and the Celtics would win eleven titles in total. His eleven championships remain the most titles by any player in the history of the National Basketball Association. With how competitively balanced the NBA is today, it is difficult to ponder how a player could match this record.

Bill Russell’s Influence Off of the Court

        Throughout his career in the National Basketball Association, Russell faced racial discrimination and abuse. There was a lot of hatred from the public towards one of the first African-American superstars in a major professional basketball league. He used his influence to advocate for positive change in the fight for civil rights. Moreover, Russell brought attention to issues of racial injustice. Furthermore, he stood up for what he believed was right in a peaceful but influential manner. In conclusion, Russell would become as much of a significant figure off of the court as he was on the court.

NBA F.A.Q.

When does NBA free agency start?

NBA free agency starts on July 1 of each year.

What is the average NBA scout salary?

The average NBA scout’s salary ranges from around $50,000 to over $100,000 annually. The salary typically depends on experience, responsibilities, and the organization which employs them.

How many quarters are in a basketball game?

In the NBA, games consist of four twelve-minute quarters.

References

Bill Russell stats, height, weight, position, draft status and more. Basketball Reference. (Accessed 2023, July 10).

Wikimedia Foundation. (Accessed 2023, July 10). Bill Russell. Wikipedia.

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