William Felton “Bill” Russell (born February 12, 1934) is a retired American professional basketball player who played center for the Boston Celtics of the National Basketball Association (NBA) from 1956 to 1969. A five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a twelve-time All-Star, Russell was the centerpiece of the Celtics dynasty, winning eleven NBA championships during his thirteen-year career. Along with Henri Richard of the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens, Russell holds the record for the most championships won by an athlete in a North American sports league. Before his professional career, Russell led the University of San Francisco to two consecutive NCAA championships (1955, 1956). He also won a gold medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics as captain of the U.S. national basketball team.
Russell is widely considered one of the best players in NBA history. He was listed as between 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) and 6 ft 10 in (2.08 m), and his shot-blocking and man-to-man defense were major reasons for the Celtics’ success. He also inspired his teammates to elevate their own defensive play. Russell was equally notable for his rebounding abilities. He led the NBA in rebounds four times, had a dozen consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more rebounds, and remains second all-time in both total rebounds and rebounds per game. He is one of just two NBA players (the other being prominent rival Wilt Chamberlain) to have grabbed more than 50 rebounds in a game. Though never the focal point of the Celtics’ offense, Russell also scored 14,522 career points and provided effective passing.
Playing in the wake of pioneers like Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and Sweetwater Clifton, Russell was the first African American player to achieve superstar status in the NBA. He also served a three-season (1966–69) stint as player-coach for the Celtics, becoming the first African American NBA coach.For his accomplishments in the Civil Rights Movement on and off the court, Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011.
Russell is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He was selected into the NBA 25th Anniversary Team in 1971 and the NBA 35th Anniversary Team in 1980, and named as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996, one of only four players to receive all three honors. In 2007, he was enshrined in the FIBA Hall of Fame. In 2009, the NBA announced that the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy would be named the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award in honor of Russell.