Bill Russell, an 11-time NBA champion as a player and coach with the Boston Celtics and one of the most important figures in NBA history, has died at the age of 88, his family announced Sunday. Russell passed away peacefully with his wife Jeannine by his side.
Born in Louisiana in 1934, Russell was not initially considered a top basketball prospect. His first scholarship offer came from the University of San Francisco, a school hardly known for its basketball prowess but one that Russell was able to carry to consecutive national championships in 1955 and 1956. In addition to basketball, Russell was a track star at San Francisco, notably competing in the high jump. He won an Olympic gold medal in basketball as Team USA's captain in 1956 before turning professional.
Despite his collegiate excellence, Russell was not the first pick in the 1956 NBA Draft. That honor went to Duquesne wing Si Green. That left Russell available at No. 2, where the St. Louis Hawks were drafting. However, circumstances worked in Russell's favor. Boston Celtics star Ed Macauley's son was being treated for spinal meningitis in St. Louis, so he asked the team to send him there as a favor. They did so, and Boston landed the No. 2 pick in exchange for Macauley and fellow Hall-of-Famer Cliff Hagan. The deal didn't exactly blow up in St. Louis' face. Though they lost the 1957 Finals to Boston, the Hawks came back to win it all in a 1958 rematch with the Celtics. But that would be the last championship they'd ever win. Russell won 10 more, including the next eight in a row.
Rest In Peace Mr. Russell.