Over a 15-year period, beginning with his junior year at the
University of San Francisco, Russell had the most remarkable
career of any player in the history of team sports. At USF, he was
a two-time All-American, won two straight NCAA championships and
led the team to 55 consecutive wins. And he won a gold medal at
the 1956 Olympics.
During his 13 years in Boston, he carried the Celtics to the NBA
Finals 12 times, winning the championship 11 times, the last two
titles while he was also serving as the NBA’s first Black coach.
Bill Russell 21-0 in winner-take-all games: All NCAA games,
Olympic medal round, best-of-5’s, best-of-7’s. Greatest resume of
Here’s a guy who says the above oft-cited 21-0 winner-take-all record is incorrect — and that he was 22-0. Russell’s career stats (22.5 rebounds per game!) were amazing, but he was a winner above all else. In addition to the above, he won two state championships in high school. In 2009 the NBA named the Finals MVP trophy in Russell’s honor. That’s fitting and fair, but I’ve always thought it was a bit incongruous, because Russell never cared about any awards other than the only one that truly mattered: the team championship.
His last two championship seasons with the Celtics, he was the team’s head coach in addition to remaining its best and most essential player. He was the first black head coach for any major American sports team.
Personal anecdote. WWDC 2016, the last one held in San Francisco. Early Sunday evening, June 12, the InterContinental hotel lobby. I’m hanging out with my wife and our friend Paul Kafasis, waiting for friends before heading to dinner. At the bar, sitting alone: the man himself, Bill Russell. Bill Russell! We figure he was there for the NBA Finals — game 5, Cavs at Warriors, would be played the next night in Oakland. He walked with the aid of a cane but he looked great. The man had a presence about him, and it wasn’t just his 6′10″ frame. Dignity and grace, personified. What a thrill, just to see him.
What was he doing? Playing with his iPhone, of course.
★ Sunday, 31 July 2022