Bill Russell died at the age of 88. Photo: AP
bill russellthe giant who set the record of 11 championships as the cornerstone of the dynasty Celts of Bostonfaced racism in the 60s to become the first black star of the NBA.
Russell, who died this Sunday at the age of 88, was awarded five Most Valuable Player awards and was captain of the US team that won the gold medal at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956.
But the mythical ‘center‘is not only remembered for completing an unprecedented showcase of titles, but for revolutionizing the NBA’s defensive game, with levels of rebounds and saves never seen before.
The duels between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Photo: AP
In 1957, at the age of 23, Russell won his first ring and between 1959 and 1966 accumulated eight more in a row. In that last year he was named player-manager, being the first black manager in American sportsand in that facet he won his last two titles in 1968 and 1969, the year he was fired from the Celtics.
Russell was also the first black player to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011 for a career in sports and civil rights.
From Louisiana to Boston
One of Russell’s latest images. Photo: AFP
Born on February 12, 1934 in Monroe, Louisiana, Russell’s family moved to Oakland, California when he was eight. His mother died four years later and was unable to see his son Bill earn two state high school degrees and two college degrees with the University of San Francisco after being rejected by other schools due to the color of his skin.
The University of San Francisco team was the first to field black playerswhich at the time generated racist ridicule in games and even the refusal of hotels to accept guests with that skin color, which led the entire team to sleep in university residences.
“I never allowed myself to be a victim,” Russell said. At the heart of him he was denied recognition as the best player in the region after winning the university title in 1955, which led him to focus more on his team’s achievements than on individual ones.
“This let me know that if I accepted them (the individual awards) as the final judges of my career, I would die a bitter old man,” he explained.
gold and rings
Recognized by Obama. Photo: AFP
The center delayed his NBA debut to play in the 1956 Olympics, leading the US team with an average of 14.1 points per game. In his first season in the NBA, 1956/57, Russell already made a league impact with 14.7 points and 19.6 rebounds per game and added his first league ring with the Celtics.
In 1958 he got his first MVP award, but a foot injury caused the green team to fall in the final. The following year began the historic eight consecutive ring tour for Russell and his Celtics.
But sporting glory had the bitter side of prevailing racism, which made Russell and his teammates often see how they couldn’t stay in hotels during exhibition matches in some states of the country.
These incidents led Russell, in turn, to snub autograph seekers and refuse to acknowledge the applause for years.
The first black coach
A legend wherever you look. Photo: AP
In 1966, legendary Celtics coach Red Auerbach decided to retire and Russell became the star of the team on the pitch.
“I wasn’t offered the job because I’m black. I was offered the job because Red realized I could do it,” Russell later said.
In 1968, the United States was shocked by the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr on the eve of the Eastern Conference Finals between Boston and Philadelphia.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle, there were calls to cancel the series but the finals were played and the Celtics were the first team to come back 3-1 down, later winning three consecutive games and advancing to the NBA Finals, in which defeated the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Celtics again defeated the Los Angeles franchise in the 1969 Finals, after which Russell ended his playing career. In 1972, the Celtics withdrew number 6 of him.
During his 13 NBA seasons, Russell averaged 15.1 points and 22.5 rebounds per game, including a record 24.9 rebounds per game in the playoffs.
Outside of Boston, Russell coached two bouts, first leading the Seattle Supersonics from 1973 to 1977 for a record 162 wins and 166 losses, and then briefly with the Sacramento Kings in the 1987-88 campaign, which scored 17 wins and 41 defeats.