Back when there were as few as eight teams in the entire NBA, one stood out and dominated the handful of other clubs. It was the Boston Celtics, and a star player from that era, Bill Russell, died at the age of 88 on Sunday.
His Celtics won the NBA title in 1957 and every year from 1959-1966. His 11th and final championship came in 1969 when the league still had only14 teams, less than half the current total of 30 NBA teams, where competition is much more fierce.
Russell was named MVP five times and played in 12 All-Star games. He was not a prolific scorer, and his stats were dwarfed by other great players of his era, including his rival Wilt Chamberlain, who dominated Russell in head-to-head matchups, outscoring Russell 29.9 to 14.2 points. Russell did not have impressive offensive stats because his Celtics’ teams were loaded with other Hall of Famers and great players, so Russell made his impact playing defense and blocking shots.
Here’s what he told the New York Times back in 2011.
“I was an innovator. I started blocking shots, although I had never seen shots blocked before that. The first time I did that in a game, my coach called timeout and said, ‘No good defensive player ever leaves his feet.’”
Russell struggled to find success as a coach in the NBA after leaving the talent-laden Celtics of the 1950s and ’60s, and he had a very short-lived career as an NBA television commentator. Still, he did many positive things for the community and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2011. He received the NBA’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2017.
The city of Boston also honored Russell with a statue at City Plaza Hall.