Former NBA champion Bill Russell died on Sunday (July 31) at the age of 88. Russell won as many as 11 NBA titles, two NCAA championships and an Olympic gold medal during his career as the defensive force and the centrepiece of the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1960s.
Without Russell risking his own life and enduring the cruelties he did as a Black player in the segregated Boston of the 1950s and 1960s, athlete activism would have looked much different today.
Here’s a look at the numbers behind Russell’s Hall of Fame career.
The all-time winner:
The Boston Celtics were beyond fortunate to draft Bill Russell out of San Francisco in 1956. They built a dynasty around the rangy centre, and dominated the sport until his retirement in 1969.
Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain:
In the 1959-60 season, Wilt Chamberlain entered the NBA and began an epic 10-year rivalry with Russell. Counting the regular season and the playoffs, Russell’s Celtics were 86-57 against Wilt Chamberlain’s teams, for a .600 winning percentage.
While Bill Russell contributed significantly on offense, his identity was tied to his defensive performance. The NBA champion led the league in defensive win shares in 11 of his 13 seasons, including 10 straight from 1958 to 1967. No other player led the NBA in this category more than five times.
1. 3.6 assists per 36 minutes for Russell. Though he’s not known for his passing as much as other facets of his game, that total puts him third among Hall of Fame centres, behind only Bill Walton (4.3) and Wes Unseld (3.8).
2. 5 seasons in which Russell was league MVP, tying him with Michael Jordan for second all-time.
Also read: Who was Bill Russell?
3. 8 players, including Russell, who won an NCAA title, an Olympic gold medal and an NBA title.
4. 22.45 rebounds per game in the regular season, good for second all-time behind Chamberlain (22.89). Russell’s 24.87 boards per game in the playoffs is first on the all-time list.
5. 133.6 total defensive win shares for Russell, the most by any player. Trailing him are Tim Duncan (106.3), Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon (94.5) and Chamberlain (93.9).