Whenever the debate about the greatest player ever in the NBA comes up, people mostly tend to put into consideration the number of championships or rings the player has won. This has mainly been the reason why many students of the game have named Michael Jordan, who won six NBA rings, as the greatest player ever, ahead of people like LeBron James, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Kobe Bryant, who all proved that they were as talented, if not more, as the legendary Chicago Bulls player.
But while Kareem and Jordan both won the same number of rings, there are other players who won more championships than they did. The legendary Boston Celtics team of the 1960s, who won the league every year in that decade bar one, produced players that won more than six championships. They include Hall of Fame basketballers like Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Tom “Satch” Sanders, K. C. Jones, Sam Jones, and Bill Russell, who particularly has the record for the most rings won by a single player as he won one short of two times the number of championships that Kareem and Jordan managed.
But despite his resounding success, the five-time NBA most valuable player rarely gets mentioned in the all-time greatest player conversation. Here is a look at Bill Russell’s professional basketball career and how he was able to become the player with the most NBA rings in the history of the game.
Bill Russell’s Career
Bill Russell was the first black player to achieve superstar status in the NBA. His journey to becoming a household name did not begin as you would have imagined as he was said to have struggled to develop his basketball skills in the beginning. This is despite the fact that he was a good runner, jumper and had large hands. Russell notably failed to make his junior high school team. He was further going to be cut from his high school team as a freshman but was given a chance to prove himself because the coach saw his raw athletic potential.
The young boy worked on himself in his first two years of high school to be able to go ahead and lead his team to back to back on high school state championships in his junior and senior year. After high school, he accepted an offer to attend the University of San Francisco where he led his school to two NCAA championships before he was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 1956 NBA Draft.
Life in the NBA started very smoothly for the center position player as he helped the Celtics win their first NBA championship in his rookie year. His sophomore year did not produce an NBA ring but Russell more than made up for it as he went on to win eight straight championships in the following years – 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, and 1966.
The 1966-67 season did not go as planned for the now aging Bill Russell as he was beaten by Wilt Chamberlain’s Philadelphia 76ers in the 1967 Eastern Finals. The following year, however, Russell showed that he was cut from a different cloth as he was able to help his team overcome the 76ers to capture his tenth title in 12 years.
In the 1968–69 season, what turned out to be his last season, Bill Russell was overweight and notably lacked his usual energy. He was later diagnosed with acute exhaustion. Despite this, he was still able to rally his team to claim his 11th championship in 13 years before calling time on what was nothing short of an illustrious career.
Life After Winning the Most NBA Rings
After becoming not just the most decorated NBA player ever, but also one of the most successful and decorated athletes in North American sports history, Bill Russell moved into coaching. He served as head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics (1973 to 1977) and Sacramento Kings (1987 to 1988) before going ahead to work as a color commentator for CBS and TBS throughout the 1970s and into the mid-1980s.
In 2006, the two-time NCAA champion was recognized for his impact on college basketball as he was a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. Three years later, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award was renamed the “Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award” in honor of the 11 NBA rings holder.