The Boston Celtics set the standard for success in the NBA. And Bill Russell set the standard for the standard-setters.
The legendary Celtics big man has become synonymous with winning, and with good reason: He won an NBA-record 11 championships over 13 seasons with the Celtics from 1956 to 1969. Russell earned two of those championships as a player and coach and made 12 All-Star teams while earning five NBA MVP awards.
Bill Russell’s Civil Rights legacy rivals his on-court accolades
Simply put, Russell is the winningest NBA player of all time and one of the most successful professional athletes in any sport. Here's a rundown of Russell's on-court accomplishments, from career stats to impressive highlights to his lengthy list of NBA records.
Editor's Note: Bill Russell will be honored on several occasions in February, first in a Netflix documentary titled, "Bill Russell: Legend" that drops Feb. 8, and again on Feb. 12 with "Bill Russell Night" at TD Garden during the Celtics' game against the Memphis Grizzlies. NBC Sports Boston is publishing a three-part series honoring Russell's incredible life both on and off the court.
Bill Russell's career stats
- 11-time NBA champion (1957, 1959 to 1966, 1968, 1969)
- Two-time NBA champion as player-coach (1968, 1969)
- 12-time NBA All-Star (1958 to 1969)
- Five-time NBA Most Valuable Player (1958, 1961-1963, 1965)
- Three-time All-NBA First Team (1959, 1963, 1965)
- Eight-time All-NBA Second Team (1958, 1960 to 1962, 1964, 1966 to 1968)
- NBA All-Defensive First Team (1969)
- Four-time NBA rebounding champion (1958, 1959, 1964, 1965)
- Career stats and averages
- 963 regular-season games played
- 15.1 points per game
- 22.5 rebounds per game
- 4.3 assists per game
- 44.0% field goal percentage
- 56.1% free throw percentage
- 165 postseason games played
- 16.2 points per game
- 24.9 rebounds per game
- 4.7 assists per game
- 43.0% field goal percentage
- 60.3% free throw percentage
- Career highs
- Points: 37
- Rebounds: 51
- Assists: 13
Russell won 107 of his 165 postseason games for a remarkable 64.8% winning percentage. He also went 11-1 in NBA Finals series over his career and was a perfect 21-0 in winner-take-all games throughout his basketball career (NCAA tournament, the Olympic medal round and a deciding NBA Game 5 or 7).
Bill Russell's career highlights
Simply put, Bill Russell revolutionized the game of basketball -- particularly on defense, where he perfected the art of blocking shots and deflecting them to himself or a teammate instead of swatting the ball out of bounds.
Russell also distinguished himself from the other elite center of his era: superstar Wilt Chamberlain. While Chamberlain posted eye-popping stats, Russell found more ways to help his team win -- as evidenced by the legends' first meeting on Nov. 7, 1959, when Chamberlain racked up 30 points and 28 rebounds but Russell made all eight of his free throws to help the Celtics beat Chamberlain's Philadelphia Warriors 115-106.
Russell went 57-37 against Chamberlain in the regular season and won seven of eight playoff matchups versus his archrival, who had stops with the Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers.
The final victory of Russell's career also came at Chamberlain's expense. In 1969, as the Celtics' player-coach at age 34, Russell helped guide Boston to a dramatic 108-106 win over Chamberlain's Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Russell fittingly retired on top as a player, although he'd go on to coach five more seasons: four with the Seattle SuperSonics (1973 to 1977) and one with the Sacramento Kings (1987-88).
Bill Russell's career records and achievements
- Most championships in NBA history as a player (11)
- Most NBA Finals appearances (12) and NBA Finals games played (70) in league history
- First Black head coach in NBA history
- Second-most NBA MVP awards in league history (five)
- Second-most rebounds in NBA history (21,620)
- NBA Finals MVP trophy named in his honor beginning in 2009
- 10-0 record in Game 7s
- Only player named to the NBA's official 25th, 35th, 50th and 75th anniversary teams
- 2019 NBA Lifetime Achievement Award
Those records are just a small sampling of what made Russell one of the greatest players in NBA history. Russell put winning above all else, and he was rewarded more than any player in league history for that mindset.