A lasting legacy that broke barriers.
After a successful stint at the University of San Francisco, Russell declared for the 1956 NBA Draft and was selected No. 2 overall by the then-St. Louis Hawks (now known as the Atlanta Hawks). Despite Boston not having a high draft pick, Celtics coach Red Auerbach traded Cliff Hagan and former St. Louis University star Ed Macauley to the Hawks for Russell's draft rights.
Russell had a stellar rookie season despite him being limited to only 48 games due to playing in the 1956 Summer Olympics. He averaged 14.7 ppg and a league-high 19.6 rpg but lost out to his teammate, future Hall of Famer Tom Heinsohn, in the Rookie of the Year race.
As a rookie, Russell was a key cog on a stacked Celtics team loaded with future Hall of Famers. Russell’s dominant interior defense and rebounding in the 1957 playoffs helped Boston sweep the then-Syracuse Nationals (now known as the Philadelphia 76ers) in three games in the Eastern Division finals and capture its first championship by toppling the Hawks in Game 7 of The Finals.
After falling to the Hawks in a Finals rematch in 1958, Russell and the Celtics went on to win eight straight championships from 1959-66, cementing themselves as the greatest dynasty the league had ever seen. The Celtics played 100 playoff games during that run and Russell was dominant, averaging 18.3 ppg, 26.4 rpg and 4.7 apg. In an era before blocks were kept as an official statistic, he was renown for his ability to defend the rim while also keeping the ball in play when he blocked shots.
Russell had many epic individual matchups against legendary center Wilt Chamberlain. The two rivals clashed in the playoffs eight times from 1960-69. Russell’s Celtics got the better of Chamberlain’s teams (Warriors, 76ers and Lakers) in seven of the eight playoff meetings, including two Finals matchups (1964 and '69).
Always a rugged interior player, Russell demonstrated his rebounding prowess throughout his entire career. He averaged at least 18.6 rpg in each of his 13 seasons and had eight regular-season and three playoff games in his career of 40 or more rebounds. He had 51 rebounds in one game, 49 in two others and is the No. 2 rebounder in NBA history (21,620) despite last having played in 1968-69.
Prior to the 1966-67 season, Russell became the first Black coach in NBA history when he took over for a retiring Auerbach. Russell won two titles as a player-coach (both against the Lakers in 1968 and ‘69). He retired after winning his 11th title in 1969, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame six years later.
Russell never won Finals MVP, mainly due to the award being implemented during his final season. But in 2009, the league renamed the award in Russell's honor and he has presented the trophy to the winner at every NBA Finals since then.
In September 2021, Russell was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the second time, being honored for his achievements as a coach. Aside from his stint as player-coach of the Celtics, Russell also coached the Seattle SuperSonics (1973-77, going 162-166) and Sacramento Kings (1987-88; 17-41). Russell joined Tom Heinsohn, Bill Sharman and Lenny Wilkens as the only Hall of Famers who were both a former NBA players and a former NBA coach.