The greatest athlete in American history may truly have been Bill Russell. Far more astonishingly, his status isn’t his greatest strength. Russell, who passed away this Sunday at the age of 88, contributed to redefining the idea of the athlete as a civilian in American society during the 1950s and 1960s by making social equality issues a key component of his public persona in a way that no other significant pro sports figure had done before. With 11 titles won over his 13-year professional career, he also transformed the game of basketball and established a standard of domination that is probably never going to be surpassed.
Bill Russell was the all-time master at winning. To some fans winning is the only thing that matters in sports. Russell’s numbers are both utterly absurd and oddly incomplete for a professional. In a season, he never averaged more than 20 points per game, however, he averaged 20 rebounds ten times. He played 48 minutes per game on average, with 22.4 points, and 26.4 rebounds in the 1962 Playoffs.
Best in his Era
Throughout his career, he was perfect in Game 7. Russell undoubtedly would have owned more NBA Finals MVP awards than anybody else by a wide margin if they had been given out during his playing career. (Michael Jordan currently holds the record with six; appropriately, Russell’s name was added to the trophy in 2005.) However, the on-court maneuver for which he was most renowned and for which, to this day, the majority of basketball experts will claim that he was the best player ever. Bill Russell, one of the most intelligent players in league history, dominated the defensive backboard to dominate games. He was an expert at deflecting shots so that he or a teammate could recover the errant ball.
This sparked the Celtics’ fast break offense and prevented the opposition from scoring. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010 and was hailed as an inspiration for the rest of his life since, before it was fashionable for sportsmen, particularly Black athletes, to speak out on political problems, he was a sports figure. Russell was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975 as a participant and in 2021 as a coach. In 1966, he became the first Black head coach in NBA history and then guided the Celtics to two championships, breaking the color barrier for head coaches in the league.
Civil Rights activist
Among many other significant political events, Russell marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., supported Muhammad Ali when the latter objected to being called up for military service, and helped start the first official NBA game boycott. Even going so far as to publicly declare that he would “without hesitation” give up his basketball career in order to take part in the civil rights struggle if it would help to reduce racial tensions in the nation. Bill Russell was the lone one. He embodies what it means to be a true legend, one who not only contributed to the expansion and improvement of basketball but also to a better world.
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