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Death of Bill Russell (1934-2022), the most successful man in the NBA

Since 2009, the “Bill Russell Trophy” has been awarded to the best player in the NBA Finals. A trophy that the emblematic Boston pivot of the 60s never won since it was created during his last year of activity, in 1969. The fact remains that the NBA could not pay more beautiful tribute to the most successful player in history with his eleven NBA rings! Five-time MVP and Olympic champion, the white-bearded sage is a history book unto himself.

The anecdote is tasty. A few years ago, during a golf tournament reserved for celebrities, the Hall of famer Bill Russell was apostrophized by a “people” who asked him what he thought of the cascading titles obtained by the Bulls of Michael Jordan . Bill Russell stared at him before answering: ” Not much… “

Six titles, that was not enough to impress the one who won eleven in his career with Boston, at the time when the boys of Red Auerbach crushed the League.

After four years of university in San Francisco, William Felton Russell was drafted in 3rd position by the Hawks of Saint-Louis, in 1956. Another era. American basketball comes down to an opposition between two divisions. With just eight teams – including Syracuse, Fort Wayne, St. Louis and Rochester – the competition is necessarily low. In most of these cities, basketball hardly exists today, except at the university level.

“But that doesn’t take away from Bill’s success”cup John Havlicek who will win eight titles with Boston between 1963 and 76. “He revolutionized the position of pivot as will do again later Hakeem Olajuwon. »

Wilt Chamberlain’s Black Beast

In the wake of the draft, the native of Monroe (Louisiana) is sent to Boston where Red Auerbach will shape an exceptional interior. With Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, Boston holds a magic pair. The second will play twelve Finals between 1957 and 1969 and stack the titles with insolent success. His successive partners have gone down in history: Bill Sharman, Sam Jones, KC Jones, John Havlicek…

When questioning characters like Jerry West or Paul Seymour, the coach of Syracuse, who faced Russell in the Sixties, the comments are always rave reviews. “There was no bigger, stronger, faster, smarter and more competitive than Bill. »

In 1957, during a series of playoffs, Paul Seymour gives up aligning his starting pivot against the star of the Celtics as Johnny Kerr was ridiculed in the regular season… Jerry West keeps a soft spot for Russell, even if he played him a funny trick in 1969: beaten by the Celtics for the title, West still won the first Finals MVP trophy awarded by the League when Russell had just won his eleventh ring!

The Celtics star therefore never obtained this award. Consolation: since June 2009, this trophy now bears his name. David Stern made that decision at the All-Star Game in Phoenix. “Who else but him could give his name to such a prestigious trophy? Bill was one of the greatest NBA players, one of the greatest champions in basketball history.

Russell, 75 at the time, had tears in his eyes as he said: “I am proud to know that my name will be associated with this trophy for a long time. »

The wise old man spent time in Arizona recounting his NBA Finals. Finals from another time whose photos may have yellowed but which blackened tons of film and paper before being archived in the history books. Glorious past rich in the testimony of Bob Cousy, luxury partner for the first six titles: “Bill was more than an exceptional player. He didn’t have the fundamentals of a Wilt Chamberlain or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but he played with such intensity that it was contagious. It gave you wings. »

In 1959, the Lakers were swept by the Celtics in the Finals. Bob Cousy remembers the nightmare experienced by John Kundla’s men. “It was the permanent show around Bill passing, rebounding and scoring as he wanted. Everything seemed easy for us. »

A record 51 rebounds!

A few years later, still in the Final against the same Lakers, Russell grabbed 38 rebounds in Game 3… Invincible. Performances of this ilk, he will sign every year at this level. No matter the opposition. Wilt Chamberlain, who dominates Bill Russell by ten centimeters and forty kilos, will have to bide his time with Philadelphia (1967). In 1965, Bill earned the nickname “The Good Lord” after a titanic game against the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Finals, with 28 rebounds, 10 blocks, 6 steals and 7 assists. Russell is simply playing in another dimension.

On May 5, 1969, when he put an end to a thirteen-year career, his record was crowned with five league best player titles and eleven champion rings, not to mention a gold medal at the Olympic Games from 1956 to Melbourne, while still an academic.

All Celtics fans or former Boston players have boundless admiration for this incomparable talent. Kevin Garnett had several interviews with him upon his arrival in Boston. All filmed by ESPN cameras. In November 2007, we thus saw “KG” asking all kinds of technical questions to the Master. Russell asked the 2004 MVP how he saw the evolution of the NBA, the game, the business. Proof that the wise old man has always kept up with the times. Connected to the League and its successive transformations.

Forty years after the end of his career, forty years after his last title, the first “Bill Russell Trophy” was awarded to the MVP of the Finals, in 2009. It was the least the League could do.

Two years later, Russell makes history as the first black American coach in American professional sports to receive America’s highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from the hands of Barack Obama. Then, the city of Boston paid tribute to him with a statue erected in front of the Town Hall Square. A legend, entered the Hall Of Fame again last September. This time, as a coach, since he also remains, for history, the first black coach in US sport. It was in 1966.


MVP titles: 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965

NBA Titles: 11

All-Star Selections : 12

All-Star game MVP : 1963

Sportsman of the year : 1968

Career Stats : 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists per game

*Blocks and interceptions have only been counted since 1973.


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