With 11 NBA titles, Bill Russel won more NBA Championship rings than any other player.
Recent basketball fans may have no idea who Bill Russell is, but the guy was the epitome of championship basketball. His calling card was defense and backboard domination, although he can score if he wants to.
Russell anchored the Boston Celtics’ defense, allowing the team to run most opponents to the ground. He was also the vocal leader on the court of the Celtics. The NBA Finals MVP trophy is named after Russell to honor his contributions to the game of basketball. In the game of basketball, Bill Russell was a legend. Let’s take a look at how he did it.
How Many Rings Does Bill Russell Have?
Bill Russell won 11 championship rings in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics. He had a legitimate chance to win in 1958 against the St. Louis Hawks, bringing the ring total to 12. Russell went down with a foot injury in Game 3, allowing the Hawks to wrestle the championship away from the Celtics in six games.
Some may underrate Russell’s remarkable achievement. They say the talent level was too concentrated back in the day, and there were only ten teams to play against. He did have several Hall-of-Fame teammates by his side during these runs. But the mental and physical toughness to play championship basketball every year must be taxing! In that regard, Bill Russell has no equal.
See who has won the most team championships in the NBA.
An Overview of Bill Russell’s Championship Runs
A complete account of Bill’s 11 championships would have looked like an encyclopedia. After all, he won all of the seasons he played from 1956 to 1969, except for 1958 and 1967. We’ll try encapsulating his championship journey in as few paragraphs as possible.
First Championship Ring (Boston Celtics vs. St. Louis Hawks, 1957)
The Celtics-Hawks rivalry in the late 50s and early 60s was entertaining. The seven-game series featured two double-OT games– one of which St. Louis won, and the other was the Game 7 nailbiter which the Celtics prevailed. To give you an idea of how close the games are, five were decided by five points, including three games decided by a single basket.
The Hawks’ Bob Pettit was phenomenal in this series, but the Celtics’ balanced offense and Russell’s defense were the keys. Pettit averaged over 30, but the next-highest-scoring teammate only had 16 PPG. Meanwhile, Boston had three 20 PPG scorers, and that’s not including Russell. The big guy scored 13.9 APG but averaged almost 23 rebounds to dominate the glass completely. Russell was letting the basketball world know he was a force to be reckoned with.
Note: Finals MVP wasn’t awarded until 1969.
Eight Straight Championships (1959-1966)
After St. Louis defeated Boston in seven games in 1958, Russell and the team returned to business. This time around, they did not let anyone eat for eight seasons! Here are some of the notes of these remarkable championship runs.
Second Championship, 1959
The series was the Minneapolis Lakers ended swiftly via sweep. The Lakers had no answer for Russell, who again dominated the glass with 29.5 rebounds a game. He grabbed 30 rebounds in three of the four games and 28 in the other.
Third Championship, 1960
After not playing in the Finals for a year, St. Louis and Boston were at it again. To nobody’s surprise, the series again went the distance. Three players averaged a double-double for the St. Louis Hawks, but Russell’s inside presence was again too much. He averaged 24.9 boards over seven games, a shade below two of the Hawks’ best rebounders combined! (Bob Pettit, 14.9 RPG; Cliff Hagan, 10.1 RPG)
Fourth Championship, 1961
By this time, the Hawks were on the downtrend, while the Celtics were still on an upward trajectory. St. Louis couldn’t hang with Boston anymore, falling to the mighty Celtics in five games. Russell was averaging 17.6 points and 28.8 rebounds,
Fifth Championship, 1962
After relocating to Los Angeles, the Lakers offered more resistance than the 1959 team with the addition of the great Jerry West. They still fell short after taking control with a Game 5 win. Game 7 was an O.T. thriller which Boston won, 110-107. Despite a combined 71.7 points between West and Elgin Baylor, they had no answer for Russell again. He was taking more of the scoring cudgels (22.9 PPG), but the monstrous rebounding never left (27 RPG).
Sixth Championship, 1963
Despite being competitive in 1962, the Lakers offered less resistance in 1963. They fell behind 1-3 and never recovered. Baylor and West were formidable scorers, but Boston’s balanced attack anchored on Russell’s board control and defense was too much. Russell averaged 20 points and 26 rebounds in this series, showing maturity and sharper focus than ever before.
Seventh Championship, 1964
The 1964 championship was the first time Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain faced in the Finals. Chamberlain was suiting up for the San Francisco Warriors and was statistically dominant. The Big Dipper averaged 29.2 points and 27.6 rebounds for the Warriors, but a familiar theme again resonated. Russell’s Celtics played more as a team and won the series 4-1.
See how many NBA rings Larry Bird won.
Eighth Championship, 1965
For the third time in the decade, the Lakers and Celtics face off in the Finals. The Lakers were without Elgin Baylor on this one, so the Celtics took only five games to finish the challengers. In the usual Bill Russell fashion, he averaged 17 points and 25 rebounds for the series.
Ninth Championship, 1966
With Baylor returning and the team adding Gail Goodrich, the Lakers are now poised to take on the Celtics another time. The Green Train, however, was not about to be denied. West and Baylor were brilliant offensively, but the Celtics, with John Havlicek, ultimately found a way. Boston defeated Los Angeles, 4-3, after the Lakers tied the series after being down, 1-3.
Tenth and Eleventh Championships, 1968 and 1969
After a failed run as a player and head coach in 1967, Russell was at it again in 1968 and 1969. In 1969, the Lakers acquired Chamberlain to match up with Russell, but the Celtics held on to win in seven games. Interestingly, Jerry West was named the first Finals MVP even though he was on the losing team.
Bill Russell’s Records
The NBA did not tally blocks until 1973, so Bill Russell wasn’t on the all-time list in the category he’s an expert with. That said, he still owns several records until this day.
- Most NBA championships (11)
- Tied for most seasons averaging at least 20 rebounds (10). The other person to do it was Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberlain.
- Second-best rebounding performance in NBA history (51 rebounds). (Wilt’s 55 is still the record.)
- Averaged at least 20 rebounds in each playoff run
- All-time leader in total rebounds (4,109) and rebounds per game (22.5) in the playoffs
- All-time leader in defensive win shares (133.6)
See Bill Russell’s quotes to better understand him on and off the court.
Bill Russell Highlights Video
Russell’s College Career
Born February 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana, Russell’s family moved to the San Francisco Bay area. Russell played hoops at his Mcclymonds High School in Oakland. At just over 6’9” in height, his size earned him a scholarship to the University of San Francisco.
Playing with future Celtics teammate K.C. Jones, Russell led the Dons to 56 consecutive victories and two NCAA Championships in 1955 and 1956.
Russell led the U.S. men’s basketball team to capture the gold medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Russell was the 2nd pick in the first round of the NBA draft.
Was Bill Russell Overrated?
Let’s start with some stats: Russell was a 12x all-star, 11x All-NBA, 5x MVP, and 4x rebounding champ. He averaged 22.5 rebounds per game and 15.1 points per game.
Bill Russell’s basketball career is an interesting topic. For one party, sacrificing his offense for the team to focus on defense was a mark of a consummate winner and pro. On the other hand, his scoring averages, free-throw shooting, and field goal shooting percentage were average at best.
The argument was simple: If he is going to be considered the GOAT, he would have to be better than 15 points on 46% shooting from the floor and 52% from the line. So, was he overrated?
From a pure basketball perspective, no, he isn’t. Remember that he’s the constant fixture of the 11 championship teams. Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman, Tommy Heinsohn, and even Red Auerbach were gone at some point, yet Russell still won! What’s more, the Celtic offense wasn’t structured to have a dominant scorer. Auerbach had an equal opportunity system that allowed his players to have their moments.
Rebounds and Defense Win Championships
Russell smartly used this to his advantage and concentrated on being a terrific rebounder and defender. He was also an above-average passer and could lead the break like no big man in his era could.
His impact can be seen both in the box scores and off it; ask any basketball player who has to play against a monster rebounder and defender, and it can weigh on you mentally.
The absence of Bill Russell was why the Celtics did not win a championship before 1957. The year after he retired, the Celtics’ win total went from 48 to 34 wins, a 14-game drop, and they missed the playoffs.
It’s no coincidence that the Celtics won 11 of their 17 banners under Russell’s tenure. With one player having that much impact, would it be fair to call him overrated?
(Interestingly, Bill Russell had five league MVPs but only made it to the All-NBA First team three times. During that period, players vote for the MVP, while the media vote for All-NBA selections. The general pulse was that many players were better in his position, but nobody was more valuable to their team.)
How Does Bill Russell Stack Up With NBA Championships For Other NBA Players
Here are the players with the most NBA Championship rings. Russell leads the pack.
Bill Russell (Boston Celtics): 11 rings.
Sam Jones (Boston Celtics): 10 rings.
John Havlicek (Boston Celtics): 8 rings.
K.C. Jones (Boston Celtics): 8 rings.
Tommy Heinsohn (Boston Celtics): 8 rings.
Satch Sanders (Boston Celtics): 8 rings.
Robert Horry (Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, and San Antonio Spurs): 7 rings
Frank Ramsey (Boston Celtics): 7 rings.
Jim Loscutoff (Boston Celtics): 7 rings.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers): 6 rings.
Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls): 6 rings.
Scottie Pippen (Chicago Bulls): 6 rings.
Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers): 5 rings.
Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers): 5 rings.
Dennis Rodman (Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls): 5 rings
LeBron James (Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Los Angeles Lakers): 4 rings.
Steph Curry (Golden State Warriors): 4 rings.
Shaquille O’Neal (Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat): 4 rings.
Bill Russell FAQ
Here are some frequently asked questions about Bill Russell and championship rings.
Bill Russell has 11 rings representing 11 NBA Championships that his team won. Russell won all of his titles with the Boston Celtics.
Yes. He won the last two 11 NBA titles as a player/coach for the Boston Celtics.
Boston Celtics and Sacramento Kings.
Final Thoughts On Bill Russell’s Ring Count and Legacy
Regarding Bill Russell, fans’ opinions have no middle ground. Many consider him the most outstanding team athlete of all time, while some consider him overrated.
When it comes to collecting championship rings, there was nobody better.
How many rings does Bill Russell have? Basketball’s “Secretary of Defense” had 11 rings in 13 seasons playing for the storied Boston Celtics franchise. That is the all-time NBA record for most championships won as a player. And honestly, that’s probably among the records that won’t be touched for decades or, possibly, forever.
By Jan Rey with Mike O’Halloran
Jan is a sucker for all things basketball and still yells, “Kobe!” every time he tosses a crumpled paper into a trash bin. Mike has written three books on youth basketball coaching.
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