William F. Russell (born February 12, 1934) is a former American basketball player remembered for his central role in the Boston Celtics dynasty that won 11 championships in the 13 seasons, in which he led the Boston Celtics to eight straight championships. His major contribution to the sport was raising defensive play to a new level; he is commonly considered the greatest defensive center to ever play the game, and is considered by some to be the greatest basketball player of all-time. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.
Russell holds the record for the most championships won in a North American sports league, with 11; the only other athlete to match this record is Henri Richard of the NHL's Montreal Canadiens.
Born in Monroe, Louisiana and raised in Oakland, California, the 6-foot 9-inch (2.06 m) tall Russell played at McClymonds High School and college basketball at the University of San Francisco, which he led to NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956, including an impressive string of 55 consecutive victories. For his college career, Russell averaged 20.7 points per game and 20.3 rebounds per game. Russell was also the captain of the 1956 United States men's Olympic basketball team, which cruised to the gold medal at the Melbourne Summer Games with an average margin of victory of 53.5 points.
Russell was drafted by the St. Louis Hawks but played for the Celtics from 1956 to 1969, winning the NBA championship every year except 1958 (losing in the finals) and 1967. In his first full season (1957-58), Russell became the first player in NBA history to average more than 20 rebounds per game for an entire season - a feat he accomplished 10 times in his 13 seasons. Careerwise, Russell ranks second only to Wilt Chamberlain in regular season total (21,620) and average (22.5) rebounds. Russell's 51 rebounds in a single game is the second best performance ever (only trailing Wilt Chamberlain's record of 55), and he still holds the NBA record for rebounds in one half with 32. Russell is the all-time playoff leader in total (4,104) and average (24.9) rebounds, he grabbed 40 rebounds in three separate playoff games, and he never failed to grab at least 20 rebounds per game in any of his 13 post-season campaigns. In his career, Russell won four rebounding titles and earned five MVP awards.
In 1966, legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach named Russell his successor as head coach; he thus became the first African-American head coach in US major league team sports history. Russell served as player-coach from 1966 to 1969, winning two NBA championships; he later coached the Seattle SuperSonics (1973 to 1977) and Sacramento Kings (1987 to 1988), but did not succeed in winning another championship.
Russell has received virtually every NBA honor that exists, and in 1968, he received Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" award. In 1980, he was named the greatest player in the history of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America. He was exceptionally active in the American Civil Rights Movement. At one point, he refused to play a game when he and his black teammates were refused service at a local restaurant. In 1968 Russell's home was vandalized by bigots, an event that led him to call the city of Boston a "flea market of racism".Bill Russell was also active in the "Black Power" movement. He was often called "Felton X" and he even purchased land in Liberia.
He was life-long friends with another legend, the late Wilt Chamberlain, who many consider to be the greatest ever offensive player; their on-court battles were perhaps the greatest individual rivalry in the history of the league. It should be noted however that Bill Russell never considered Chamberlain his rival and dislikes the term. In his book Russell Rules, Russell describes Chamberlain as his competitor, not his rival, because they were friends.
In recent years, he convinced Shaquille O'Neal to bury the hatchet with former teammate Kobe Bryant, with whom he had a bitter feud.
Russell has worked as a TV commentator on basketball since his retirement and is also the author of several books, usually written as a joint project with a professional writer. One, Second Wind, is rather different from the typical athlete's reminescences, being a sort of combined autobiography and athletic history of a particularly dramatic time in American history.