Bill Russell, Celtics Center Who Transformed Pro Basketball, Dies at 88

At McClymonds High School in Oakland, Russell became a starter on the basketball team as a senior, already emphasizing defense and rebounding. A former University of San Francisco basketball player, Hal DeJulio, who was looking for his alma mater, recognized Russell’s potential and recommended him to the coach, Phil Woolpert.

Russell got a scholarship and became an All-American along with guard KC Jones, a future Celtic teammate, in leading San Francisco to NCAA championships in his last two seasons. After losing to UCLA in Russell’s junior year, the team won 55 games in a row. He averaged over 20 points and 20 rebounds per game over his three varsity seasons.

“No one had ever played basketball the way I played it, or so well,” Russell told Sport magazine in 1963, recalling his college career. “They had never seen anyone block shots. Now I’ll be cocky: I like to think I’ve come up with a whole new style of play.”

In the mid-1950s, the Celtics had a very talented team with Bob Cousy, the biggest little man in the league, and sharpshooter Bill Sharman on guard and Ed Macauley, a fine marksman, leading the way. But for lack of a dominant center, they had never won a championship.

The Rochester Royals held the No. 1 roster in the 1956 NBA draft, but they already had an outstanding big man, Maurice Stokes, and were unwilling to wage what their owner, Les Harrison, thought would be a bidding war for Russell with the Harlem Globetrotters, who were reportedly willing to offer him a lucrative deal. So the Royals drafted Sihugo Green, a guard from Duquesne.

The St. Louis Hawks had the No. 2 draft pick, but they too thought they couldn’t afford Russell. Auerbach persuaded them to trade that roster to the Celtics for Macauley, a native of St. Louis, and Cliff Hagan, a promising rookie. That enabled Boston to take Russell.

Leave a Comment