Today’s #TBT sports blog recalls Boston Celtics great Bill Russell – the most decorated championship player in NBA history, and now the 2019 winner of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
ESPN presented the octogenarian with its hallowed honor at last night’s annual ESPY Awards for not only Russell’s athletic dominance, but also for his empowering social activism away from the hardwood.
The former Celtics center collected an unprecedented 11 championship rings in 13 overall seasons, a feat that Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson never accomplished and LeBron James and Stephen Curry probably never will.
With pedestrian career numbers of 44% from the field and 56% from the free throw line, Bill Russell was never known for his offensive prowess.
Bill Russell: Greatest NBA Defensive Player
However, the 6’10” and 220 lb. athletic leftie is widely accepted as the greatest defensive player in NBA history and a stoic leader who epitomized winning.
As one of only seven players to ever win an NCAA, NBA and Olympic title, Bill Russell was voted one of the top 50 NBA players of all-time in 1996.
Russell won back-to-back titles with the University of San Francisco Dons in 1956 and 1957, a gold medal with the USA Olympic Team in Rome in 1956 and 11 rings as part of the incredible Boston Celtics dynasty.
Russell Involved in Most Successful Trade in Pro Sports History
In perhaps the most successful trade in professional sports history, the Celtics traded with the St. Louis Spirits to obtain Russell, Tom Heinsohn and K.C. Jones – three players who went on to be inducted in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
While leading the NBA in rebounding four different times and serving as one of the leading shot blockers of his era, Russell dominated the defensive end of the court during his playing days. He sparred regularly with his Eastern Conference nemesis Wilt Chamberlain, one of the NBA’s leading scorers of all-time.
However, away from the hardwood Russell also soared. The NBA great displayed courage and aplomb 50+ years ago while seeking ways to heal our nation’s bitter racial divide. As the NBA’s first black coach, Russell served as a role model and inspiration for others of all races.
In addition to walking peacefully with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Russell spoke out eloquently against racism. His words are memorialized in a park near Government Center in Boston in several famous quotes etched in stone underneath his bronze statue. History recounts his contributions in working toward racial harmony in the same breath as football’s Jim brown and baseball’s Jackie Robinson.
Memorable Bill Russell Quotes
Russell’s unique quotes are very poignant. I am happy to include them in this post to fully appreciate the greatness of this 11 time NBA champion.
“Learning is a daily experience and a lifetime mission.”
“Never go out to see what happens. Rather, go out there and make something happen.”
“Imagination and creative thinking are the realization that there’s no particular virtue in doing things the way they’ve always been done.”
For a relatively subdued individual with non-glittery offensive statistics during his 13 year NBA career, Bill Russell will be forever remembered as a true champion both on and off the basketball court
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MIKE – thee ultimate talking head on sports!