The Toronto Raptors joined the rest of the basketball world in mourning the loss of an icon in Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell. Not only the greatest winner the NBA has ever seen, Russell is without question one of the most prolific sportsmen in North American history.
The five MVP awards, a mind-boggling career average of 22.5 rebounds per game, and 12 All-Star teams are impressive enough, but Russell’s most significant accomplishments all relate to his championship rings. Winning 11 rings as a player, and two more as a coach, is never happening again.
Due to his stellar play on the court and legacy off it as a civil rights ambassador, it is impossible to properly tell the story of the NBA without devoting a large chunk of time to Russell’s career. The Raptors know how much of the game today is impacted directly by Russell.
Toronto put out multiple tweets thanking Russell, who passed away at age 88, for providing basketball fans with one of the greatest careers anyone will ever see. Toronto mentioned his exploits on the court and relentless drive to see social justice and equality blossom.
The Toronto Raptors mourned Bill Russell.
Some of Russell’s numbers defy belief. Not only does he have 11 rings, but he was 21-0 in winner-take-all games in his career. Russell is still by far No. 1 all-time in defensive win shares. The gap between Russell and second place Tim Duncan is wider than that between Duncan and seventh place Kevin Garnett.
Calling him the greatest defensive player who has ever lived is by no means a stretch. While blocks were not an official statistic when Russell played, he would likely be No. 1 all-time by a cartoonish margin.
Russell became the first black head coach in major American sports history, adding two more rings to his tally as a player-coach near the end of his Celtics tenure. Russell, who also coached in Seattle and Sacramento, has the unique honor of being inducted into the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach.
One of the first black superstars to achieve prominence in the pros, Russell was never shy when it came to speaking his mind or standing up for what he believed in. Be it walking out of an exhibition game in Kentucky in 1961 or supporting those who kneeled during the national anthem, Russell was a trailblazer in this area.
The Raptors may not have played against Russell, but they can sit back and appreciate all the good he has done for the game and society as a whole during his six decades in the spotlight. Some great big men have come along thanks to the path Russell helped pave.