Monday, August 8, 2022

Bill Russell dies at 88: A look at the Celtics legend’s illustrious NBA career by the numbers

Bill Russell established himself as a legend both on and off of the basketball court. Over the course of his illustrious career with the Boston Celtics, Russell posted some unparalleled and sometimes downright unbelievable statistics that helped to secure his place as one of basketball’s most revered — and decorated — players. He finished his career with averages of 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game, and totals of 14,522 points, 21,620 rebounds and 4,100 assists. 

While impressive, the raw numbers don’t quite do justice when it comes to painting the full picture of just how impactful Russell was, so here’s a look at some of the most impressive statistics stemming from his playing days with the Celtics. 

11 NBA championships: Russell won an NBA-record 11 championships during his career, including eight straight titles from 1959-1966. What makes that feat even more impressive is that he played just 13 total seasons, which means that he won the championship in all but two of the seasons that he was in the league. Plus, he also served as the head coach of the Celtics for his final two titles in 1968 and 1969. A player coaching a team to two titles while playing would be unheard of in the NBA today, but Russell did it. At this point, it’s tough to imagine another player ever catching up to Russell’s 11 rings. Sam Jones, Russell’s teammate with the Celtics, is the only other player in league history to crack double figures in terms of titles. 

Five MVP awards: During his 13 seasons with the Celtics, Russell was named the NBA’s MVP on five separate occasions (1958, 1961–1963, 1965). That’s the second-most ever, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won the award six times. With five MVP awards, Russell is also tied with Michael Jordan — the only other player to win the award five times. Wilt Chamberlain and LeBron James both won the award four times. 

12 All-Star selections: Russell was named an All-Star in 12 of his 13 seasons with the Celtics. The only season that he didn’t make the cut was his rookie year. After that, he was selected to play in the league’s annual midseason exhibition every year. He started in seven of the 12 games and compiled a total of 120 points, 139 rebounds and 39 assists over those performances. He was named MVP of the All-Star Game in 1963 after posting 19 points, 24 rebounds and five assists. 

21,620 rebounds: Russell was a dominant rebounder, and that’s evidenced by the 21,620 boards he was able to wrangle over the course of his career. That’s the second-most rebounds ever compiled by a player in NBA history. Only Wilt Chamberlain (23,924) grabbed more during his playing days. In addition to total rebounds, Russell (22.5 rebounds per game) is also second behind Chamberlain (22.9) for the highest career rebounds per game average. 

Four rebounding titles: Given how proficient Russell was at rebounding, it’s no surprise that he led the league in the category four times (1958, 1959, 1964, 1965). He’s one of three players, along with Kevin Garnett and Andre Drummond, to have led the league in rebounding four times. The only players to lead the league in rebounding on more occasions are Chamberlain (11), Dennis Rodman (seven), Moses Malone (six) and Dwight Howard (five). 

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One NBA Lifetime Achievement Award: In 2019, Russell received the inaugural NBA Lifetime Achievement Award — an award given by the league to a player who exemplified extraordinary success both on and off the court in the NBA. Other winners of the award include Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. 

One trophy named after him: Every year, the MVP of the NBA Finals hoists a trophy named after Russell — The Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award. Having a trophy named after you is an honor, especially a trophy as important and impactful as the Finals MVP award. It shows just how highly the league views Russell. Unfortunately for Russell, he never won the award himself, as it was first introduced in 1969, his final year in the league. 

Named to all four NBA anniversary teams: The NBA has honored the game’s greats with anniversary teams on four separate occasions. The 25th anniversary team was selected in 1971 and the 35th anniversary team was named in 1980. The league celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1996 and its’ 75th in 2021. Russell was one of just four players to be named to all four of those anniversary teams. The other three players to be named to all four are Bob Cousy, George Mikan, and Bob Pettit.

In addition to all of the accomplishments listed above, Russell was also the first player ever to win an Olympic Gold Medal, an NBA Championship and a college title, and he became the first African-American to coach a major professional sports team when he took the role with the Celtics in 1966. His No. 6 is retired by the Celtics and by the University of San Francisco, where he played college ball. 

To label Russell’s career as legendary feels like underselling it, but that’s exactly what it was, as he had an immense impact both on and off the court. 

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