Bill Russell life and biography

Bill Russell picture, image, poster

Bill Russell biography

Date of birth : 1934-02-12
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Monroe, Louisiana, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Sports
Last modified : 2010-06-22
Credited as : Basketball player and coach, Boston Celtics basketball team, Seattle Supersonics basketball team

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Bill Russell (also known as: William Felton Russell) born February 12, 1934 in Monroe, Louisiana is an American Basketball player and coach.


Mel Watkins wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "Bill Russell was, quite probably, the most consistently dominating athlete to play on any professional American team in recent sports history." Russell revolutionized defensive play in basketball with his systematic shot-blocking and rebounding, making defense the mark of a winning team. In his junior and senior years at the University of San Francisco, the center led his school to fifty-five straight victories and two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships. He followed these victories with a gold-winning performance on the United States Olympic team in Melbourne, Australia, in 1956. Russell then joined the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1956 and led his team to eleven association championships within the next thirteen years, capturing the league's Most Valuable Player title five times.

Surprisingly, Russell was not always good at the game. At Hoover Junior High School in Oakland, California, Russell failed to make the basketball team. At McClymonds High, he shared the team's fifteenth uniform with another player. Yet by the end of high school, the athlete had gained enough strength and skill to receive a basketball scholarship from the University of San Francisco, where he began to formulate game strategies in his mind before executing them on the courts. "Most of the [college] players weren't interested in strategy," Russell recalled in his autobiography, Second Wind. "You went out, took your shots and waited to see what happened. It was not considered a game for thinkers."

Russell found that he could return another player's moves "on the inside of my eyelids," replaying the image repeatedly, inserting himself, and envisioning counteractive moves. Eventually the center's visions came to encompass whole team-to-team maneuvers, and when he took to the courts, he found that he could act out his imaginings and that they translated into victory. For Russell, the game of basketball always generated from this cerebral center.

Yet throughout his basketball career, Russell's most satisfying moments came when a game transcended both its physical and mental spheres and became something mystical or "magical." This would occur when both teams were playing at their peaks and could last anywhere from five minutes to a whole quarter or more. Russell recounted, "The feeling would spread to the other guys and we'd levitate. Then the game would just take off, and there'd be a natural ebb and flow that reminded me of how rhythmic and musical basketball is supposed to be. I'd find myself thinking, `This is it. I want this to keep going,' and I'd actually be rooting for the other team . . . . [These moments] were sweet when they came, and the hope that one would come was one of my strongest motivations for walking out there."

Because of his remarkable college basketball performances, Russell was first draft choice of the Boston Celtics in 1956. His subsequent thirteen years with the team were distinguished by an unprecedented eleven NBA championships. In addition to his position as Celtic center, Russell replaced Red Auerbach in 1966 and became the league's first black coach while continuing to play the game. Then in 1969 the athlete retired, citing that after 3,000 games, he'd "played enough." Russell participated in a number of television, business, and sports ventures after that, including a four-year stint as coach of the NBA's Seattle Supersonics, from 1973 to 1977. In 1975 he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Perhaps now best known for his "tangy" television commentary for ABC Sports, the former athlete taps his years of experience as basketball player and coach to lend expert annotations to the game. "As a player, captain, or coach," assessed the president of ABC Sports, "Russell always held the respect of the players, coaches, and officials throughout the league and was known to speak his mind forthrightly and articulately."

This characteristic articulate and forthright approach distinguishes Russell's autobiography, Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man. In it the athlete "sounds off about everything from basketball and racism to politics, women, Hollywood, TV, big bucks and a Haitian King named Henri Christophe," Jean Strouse catalogued in Newsweek. "What saves him from committing the technical fouls of pomp and self-inflation is a wily sense of humor."

Concurring with Strouse, Watkins wrote: "Never one to avoid controversy, Mr. Russell moves from observations about racism and cultural bias to speculations on the lasting effect on him of his mother's early death and the conflict between individual freedom and the demands of celebrity status; he touches on such diverse topics as the inequity of our judicial system, the difficulty of fulfilling his role as father, the casually accepted pretensions of Hollywood life and the problems of interracial marriage. Throughout this wide-ranging rap, Mr. Russell's wit and capacity for self-criticism generally disarm any critical response, even when one is not in total agreement."

Both critics, however, along with Larry McMurtry in the New Republic, agreed that the best part of Russell's autobiography is when he describes the magic of sports competition when players are operating on a special wave-length of brilliance. McMurtry asserted that "no one has described [these moments] better than Russell," Watkins called Russell's narration "marvelous" and "reminiscent of the fight scene in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man ," and Strouse found the athlete's account as "sweet" and as "magical" as the basketball moments themselves. The reviewers were also in accord when assessing Second Wind's overall merits, describing the book as "fine," "excellent," "thoroughly enjoyable," and "in a class by itself." "An opinionated man, certainly," concluded McMurtry about the former basketball great, "which in [Russell's] case means funny, forceful, and well worth listening to."


Born February 12, 1934, in Monroe, LA; son of Charles (a factory worker) and Katie Russell; married Rose Swishes, 1956 (divorced); married Didi Anstett, June 8, 1977; children: (first marriage) three. Education: Received degree from University of San Francisco, 1956.


Olympic gold medal for basketball from International Olympic Committee, 1956; Podoloff Cup from National Basketball Association (NBA), 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1965, for league's most valuable player; voted Most Valuable Player by U. S. Basketball Writers, 1960-65; elected to Basketball Hall of Fame, February, 1975.


Boston Celtics basketball team, Boston, MA, center, 1956-69, coach, 1966-69; American Broadcasting Company (ABC-TV), New York, NY, sportscaster, 1969--; Seattle Supersonics basketball team, Seattle, WA, coach, 1973-77. Lecturer at U.S. colleges and universities, 1969-70. Has appeared in several films and on television, including regular appearances in series "Cowboy in Africa" and as co-host of ABC-TV's "The Superstars," 1978-79; news commentator twice weekly for KABC-TV (Los Angeles, CA).

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