Throwback Thursday is back! For my return to this segment, I will be starting with one of the greatest basketball players to ever have stepped onto an NBA court. He did so for the first time on this day, December 22, 60 years ago in 1956. That player was Bill Russell, and the NBA would never be the same again.
The Boston Celtics and the GM/Coach Red Auerbach did everything they could to get Russell to Boston. The story that led Russell to the Celtics is almost unbelievable in today’s age. The Celtics had traded up for the second pick in the draft but feared that the Rochester Royals, who held the first pick, would select Russell. Red had to make the first of dozens of genius GM moves over the years running the Celtics to get Bill Russell, and oh did he have a trick up his sleeve. At the time, the Ice Capades were a big show in the country that everyone enjoyed, which coincidentally the owner of the Ice Capades was Walter Brown, who was also the owner of the Celtics. Knowing the fame and interest in the Ice Capades, Red and Walter Brown offered the Royals that they would send the Ice Capades for a week of free shows if the Royals would simply pass on selecting Bill Russell. As crazy as that sounds, it worked! Rochester passed on Russell, and he fell right into he Celtics lap.
December 22, 1956 the two-time NCAA champion at San Francisco took a step on an NBA court for the first time wearing a Celtics Jersey and would change the NBA and the Boston Celtics forever. Never has a team in any sport drafted a player that gave more to their franchise. Most know the history of Russell with the Celtics, and how, along with Red, turned it into the greatest NBA franchise of all-time. He played only 13 years in the NBA winning an astonishing 11 championships and was a 12 time all-star. He was immediately the best player in the NBA and had so much respect from his teammates and the city of Boston that when Red stepped down after they won ten championships, he named Russell the player coach. Not only is he the first and last player coach in the NBA, it also made him the first African-American coach in the history of American sports. That was his final year in the NBA, and as player coach, he won his final championship giving him 11 and sending him into retirement on top.
Russell changed everything and left the NBA a completely different organization than when he joined. He gave inspiration for all African-American basketball fans, whether you wanted to play or you wanted to coach, Russell now made that possible for all. The NBA finals MVP award is named the “Bill Russell Award” for good reason. Whether you think he is the greatest player of all-time or not, he may be more responsible for what the NBA became than any single player.