Since 2009, the “Bill Russell Trophy” has been awarded to the best player in the NBA Finals. A trophy that the iconic Boston center of the 1960s has never won since it was created during his last year of activity, in 1969. The truth is that the NBA could not pay a more beautiful tribute to the most successful player in history with its eleven NBA rings. ! Five-time MVP and Olympic champion, the white-bearded sage is a history book in himself.
The story is tasty. A few years ago, during a golf tournament reserved for celebrities, Hall of Famer Bill Russell was apostrophized by a ‘town’ who asked him what he thought of the cascading titles won by Michael Jordan’s Bulls. Bill Russell stared at him before replying: “Not a big deal…”
Six titles, that wasn’t enough to impress the 11-winner in his Boston career, at a time when Red Auerbach’s boys were crushing the League.
After four years of college in San Francisco, William Felton Russell was drafted 3rd overall by the Saint-Louis Hawks in 1956. Another era. American basketball boils down to an opposition between two divisions. With only eight teams, including Syracuse, Fort Wayne, St. Louis and Rochester, the competition is necessarily low. In most of these cities, basketball barely exists today, except at the college level.
“But that doesn’t take away from Bill’s success”John Havlicek Cup who won eight titles with Boston between 1963 and 1976. “He revolutionized the pivot position as Hakeem Olajuwon will later do. »
Wilt Chamberlain’s The Black Beast
Following the draft, the Monroe, Louisiana native is sent to Boston, where Red Auerbach will shape an exceptional interior. With Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, Boston has a magical couple. The second will play twelve Finals between 1957 and 1969 and will stack the titles with insolent success. His successive partners have gone down in history: Bill Sharman, Sam Jones, KC Jones, John Havlicek…
When it comes to questioning the likes of Jerry West or Paul Seymour, the Syracuse coach who faced Russell in the 1960s, the comments are always rave reviews. “There was no one bigger, stronger, faster, smarter and more competitive than Bill. »
In 1957, during a playoff series, Paul Seymour gives up on fielding his starting center against the Celtics star because Johnny Kerr was ridiculed in the regular season… Jerry West maintains a soft spot for Russell, even though he played a trick on him. trick. in 1969: Defeated by the Celtics for the title, West still won the first Finals MVP trophy awarded by the League when Russell had just won the 11th ring from him.
The star of the Celtics, therefore, never got this award. Consuelo: Since June 2009, this trophy now bears his name. David Stern made that decision at the All-Star Game in Phoenix. “Who but him could give his name to such a prestigious trophy? Bill was one of the greatest players in the NBA, one of the greatest champions in basketball history.
Russell, 75 at the time, had tears in his eyes as he said: “I am proud to know that my name will be associated with this trophy for a long time. »
The wise old man spent time in Arizona counting down his NBA Finals. Endings of another time whose photos may have yellowed but which blackened tons of film and paper before being shelved in the history books. Glorious past rich in the testimony of Bob Cousy, luxury partner of the first six titles: “Bill was more than just an exceptional player. He didn’t have the fundamentals of a Wilt Chamberlain or a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but he played with such intensity that he was infectious. He gave you wings. »
In 1959, the Lakers were swept by the Celtics in the Finals. Bob Cousy recalls the nightmare experienced by John Kundla’s men. “It was the permanent spectacle around Bill passing, rebounding and scoring how he wanted. Everything seemed easy for us. »
Record 51 rebounds!
A few years later, still in the Final against the same Lakers, Russell grabbed 38 rebounds in Game 3…Invincible. Performances of this type, he will sign every year at this level. The opposition doesn’t matter. Wilt Chamberlain, who dominates Bill Russell by four inches and forty kilos, will have to wait for his moment with Philadelphia (1967). In 1965, Bill earned the nickname “The Good Lord” after a titanic game against the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Finals, with 28 rebounds, 10 blocks, 6 steals and 7 assists. Russell is simply playing in another dimension.
On May 5, 1969, when he ended a thirteen-year career, his record was crowned with five league best player titles and eleven championship rings, not forgetting a gold medal at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, while still an academic
Every Celtics fan or former Boston player has limitless admiration for this incomparable talent. Kevin Garnett had several interviews with him upon his arrival in Boston. All filmed by ESPN cameras. Thus, in November 2007, we saw “KG” asking the Master all kinds of technical questions. Russell asked the 2004 MVP how he saw the evolution of the NBA, the game, the business. Proof that the wise old man has always kept up. Connected to the League and its successive transformations.
Forty years after the end of his career, forty years after his last title, the first “Bill Russell Trophy” was presented to the Finals MVP, in 2009. It was the least the League could do.
Two years later, Russell makes history as the first black American coach in American professional sports to receive America’s highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from the hands of Barack Obama. The city of Boston then paid tribute to him with a statue erected in front of City Hall Square. A legend, he was inducted back into the Hall of Fame last September. This time, as a coach, since he also remains, in history, the first black coach in American sports. It was in 1966.
MVP titles: 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1965
NBA titles: eleven
stellar selections : 12
All-Star Game MVP : 1963
athlete of the year : 1968
career statistics : 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists per game
*Blocks and interceptions are only counted since 1973.
Bill Russell, the father of defense
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