He built a legacy that's larger than life.
Rest in peace, Mr. Bill Russell 💚 pic.twitter.com/wteEzFqaxA
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 1, 2022
Russell was the centerpiece of their dynasty during the late 1950s and 1960s, leading them to 11 NBA championships in his 13 seasons in the league.
Off the court, he was also a tireless advocate for civil rights, fairness, kindness, and humanity.
The 6-foot-10 center helped put the NBA on the map during the equivalence of its childhood, but decades later, as the league matured into the monster in the midway it’s been ever since, it became clear that Russell played a central role in laying down its foundation.
Russell Defined Defense In The NBA
In the early days of the NBA, defense wasn’t emphasized nearly as much as it is in modern times.
The game was played at a breakneck pace and shooting percentages were lower than they are today, but team defensive schemes or philosophies didn’t really exist back then.
But Russell, along with his head coach Red Auerbach, helped make playing defense not just fashionable, but also mandatory.
The big man may have been the greatest shot blocker and rim protector of all time, and he wasn’t necessarily blocking shots in a haphazard way.
Russell was smart about timing his blocked shots, and he would block shots in the direction of a teammate in order to start a fast break.
It’s anyone’s guess just how many shots he rejected, as blocked shots weren’t kept as a statistic until several years after he retired.
He was also a ferocious rebounder, not to mention the emotional and spiritual leader of the team.
Russell wasn’t exactly a dominant offensive player, as he averaged only 15.1 points a game on 44.0 percent shooting for his career, but he was unselfish, as he empowered his teammates to assume the load on that end of the floor.
It also didn’t hurt that Russell averaged 4.3 assists a contest over his 13 seasons.
We throw around the term “changed the game” a lot these days but Bill Russell changed. the. game.
Nobody played defense before him and NOBODY has ever had more of an impact on a game without scoring (and he still scored over 15 a game for his career) pic.twitter.com/wQRGE24inX
— Maybe: Camerinho (@camerinhoshow) July 31, 2022
His Celtics teams routinely ranked tops in defensive rating, and Auerbach was able to develop a defensive game plan around his dynamo center.
By the early 1980s, NBA defenses had evolved into at least a prototype of the double-teaming, rotating, strategic units that have defined championship basketball ever since.
The “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, coached by Pat Riley, a noted defensive guru, may have been the greatest NBA team ever, but Russell’s Celtics were the mold they were based on.
He Defined The Sport’s Greatest Rivalry
Seemingly every year, the two teams would battle in the NBA Finals, forging the rivalry that would grow the sport like fertilizer.
In the mid-1980s, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would pick the rivalry up where it was left off after Russell’s retirement, and their individual rivalry, not to mention the revival of their teams’ rivalry, made the NBA big time.
Russell was to the NBA what Babe Ruth was to Major League Baseball: the man who put his sports league on the map, even if it wasn’t fully evident until decades later.