Bill Russell remains the ultimate winner of the NBA. Russell, who died July 31, won 11 titles with the Boston Celtics in a 13-year career between 1956 and 1969. To call him the eternal champion would be an understatement. In terms of winning, Russell was to the NBA what tennis superstar Rafael Nadal is to the French Open.
Among Russell’s best qualities was that he was a team player and played a top-notch defense. The first characteristic is why several critics rank Russell ahead of his rival Wilt Chamberlain. The latter attribute played a big part as Russell led the Celtics to 11 championships.
In a clip posted to Twitter by the Boston Celtics, Russell spoke about his defensive skills. The legend said:
“A lot of times I would tune players into that if you know about vision, vision in the NBA. Player, your vision is like a projector. It opens and closes. When they come to court, they have widened their vision until they see everything. But if they pass and shoot, it narrows down to the target.”
“A defensive player could be a foot out of his line of sight and he can’t see him. He literally can’t see him. He’s totally blind even though he’s standing right in the middle of the square.”
Bill Russell’s #6 jersey was retired by the NBA
To commemorate Bill Russell’s legacy, the NBA named the Final MVP trophy after him in 2009. However, after Russell’s death, the league also decided to retire Russell’s No. 6 jersey. This makes Russell the first player in NBA history to have his jersey retired league-wide. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on this occasion:
“Bill Russell’s unprecedented on-court success and pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way. The permanent retirement of his No. 6 on all NBA teams ensures that Bill’s transcendent career will always be recognized.”
In all, Russell won five MVP awards. He was a 12-time All-Star and a member of the NBA’s 25th, 35th, 50th and 75th anniversary teams. He won an Olympic gold medal in 1956. In 1966, Russell was hired by the Celtics as the first black coach in the history of the league and major US professional sports.
As a player-coach, he led Boston to back-to-back NBA championships in 1968 and 1969. Russell was awarded the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, for his achievements on and off the field. In 2017, Bill Russell received the NBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.