To speak of Bill Russell is to speak of one of the pioneers of basketball. A player who changed the footprint of the NBA and a synonym of
To speak of Bill Russell is to speak of one of the pioneers of basketball. A player who changed the footprint of the NBA and a synonym of success. In fact, there is no other current player who comes close to his 11 rings with the Boston Celtics.
The closest are Sam Jones (10), John Havlicek (8), Tom Heisohn (8), and KC Jones (8) and Frank Ramsey (7), who played alongside him on the Celtics. But Russell not only showed great ability under the boards, but also when it comes to calling plays and keeping the locker room together: like a head coach.
When Bill Russell already had nine rings as a player, the legendary coach Red Auerbach decided to retire before the 1966-1967 season. There were many moments of uncertainty, before the doubt of who would be the brave one who would take the position to lead one of the most important dynasties of the moment (and of history, as it was later learned).
The decision to choose a successor was made by Auerbach himself, who consulted with several former Boston players and opted to give the job to Russell, who was still an active player. Yes, Bill Russell, the winningest player in NBA history at the time, he became the first African-American head coach in NBA history.
Auerbach fully trusted Russell more than any other person. There was no other player who could keep the Celtics on top, because no one knew the structure of the team better than he did.
“They didn’t offer me the job because I’m black, they offered it to me because Red thought I could do it,” Russell said in his hiring, aware that such a decision could generate a lot of debate, especially in a city as conservative as Boston, where no he was to everyone’s liking, despite all the glories he had given them. Bill Russell was player-coach.
The first season was good, although they fell in the playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers in 1967. But that was only the prelude to more successes. In 1968, the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. thereby becoming the first black head coach to win a coaching title.
And as expected, getting him as a player and coach made it even more special. The 1969 season was not easy (he only averaged 9.9 points, but he maintained his high rebounding level with 19.3 per game). Boston qualified for the playoffs with a modest 48-34 record to earn the fourth spot in the East.
They repeated the Finals, against the Los Angeles Lakers, who started as favorites with a team full of figures such as Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain, a figure who had just arrived in LA But Boston gave the chair and forced the series to a seventh game. With a lead of nine points and five minutes to play, Chamberlain injured his leg, and his trainer Bill van Breda Kolff sat him out for the rest of the game, much to West’s annoyance.
In the end, Russell won his 11th ring in 13 years, as well as his second as manager in three years as manager. At 35 years old, that was his last game in the NBA. The following year (1970), the Celtics failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1950, underscoring Russell’s importance to the team. With his death, his legacy in the team is more than clear.