August 19, 2022

Celtics center who changed pro basketball, Bill Russell, 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 DiJulio, scouted his alma mater, recognized Russell’s potential and recommended him to coach Bill Wolbert.

Russell was awarded a scholarship and became an All-American, joining the guard K.C. Jones, a future Celtics teammate, led San Francisco to NCAA championships in his final two seasons. Following a loss to UCLA in Russell’s junior year, the team won 55 straight games. He averaged 20 points and 20 rebounds over his three varsity seasons.

“Nobody ever played basketball like I did, or as well,” Russell recalled of his college career to Sport magazine in 1963. “They’ve never seen anyone block shots before. Now I’ll be proud: I’d like to think I’ve invented a new style of play.

In the mid-1950s, the Celtics had a very talented team with Bob Cousy, the league’s best small man, and sharpshooting. Bill Sharman custody and Ed McCauley, an excellent sniper, ahead. But lacking a dominant center, they never won a championship.

The Rochester Royals owned the No. 1 pick in the 1956 NBA draft, but they already had a great big man, Maurice StokesAnd their owner, Les Harrison, was unwilling to commit to what he believed would be a bidding war for Russell with the Harlem Globetrotters, who were reportedly willing to offer him a lucrative contract. So the Royals drafted Duquesne outfielder Chihugo Green.

The St. Louis Hawks had the No. 2 draft pick, but didn’t think they could afford Russell either. Auerbach persuaded the Celtics to trade that pick for McCauley from St. Louis and a promising rookie, Cliff Hagan. It managed to pick up Boston Russell.