Bill Russell — The Ultimate Team Athlete

Bill Russell — The Ultimate Team Athlete

Bill Russell, former Boston Celtics star, turns 75 years old today. While his playing days have been over for 40 years, his lasting impact on the game of basketball continues to live strong.

Bill Russell — The Ultimate Team Athlete

The results of his efforts on the basketball court were impressive. He led his University of San Francisco team to two NCAA championships, he anchored the 1956 Gold-Medal winning USA team in the Olympics and he won 11 NBA titles in his 13 years playing with the Boston Celtics. He also won an NBA championship as the Coach of the Celtics.

At a time when basketball players were evaluated to a large extent on point production, Russell proved that defense, rebounding and leadership could play a bigger role in team victories. Widely considered to be the best defensive player in basketball’s history, Russell’s shot blocking and man-to-man defense forced teams to shoot from the outside. He led the league in rebounds five times. He once had 32 rebounds in a game against Philadelphia — in the first half! If shot block statistics were kept, he undoubtedly would be the career leader. Russell commented on his approach to shot blocking, ““The idea is not to block every shot. The idea is to make your opponent believe that you might block every shot.”


Russell had classic match-ups with Wilt Chamberlain. Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, friends off the court, frequently battled each other in playoff series. Seven of the eight times their teams met in playoff series, Russell’s team emerged victorious.

The Boston Celtics return to glory and the NBA championship last year was largely due to a recommitment to defensive play. Some people in the Celtics organization must have remembered what Bill Russell brought to the table years before.

Here are some of Russell’s laws:

  1. You must make the other player do what you want him to do;
  2. You got to have the killer instinct; and
  3. Remember that basketball is a game of habit.

Russell’s championships won, leadership, and demonstration that defensive contributions can have a bigger impact than point scoring, will continue to be remembered by basketball fans. Happy Birthday, Bill.