Russell was the centerpiece of their dynasty in the late 1950s and 1960s, leading them to 11 NBA championships during his 13 seasons in the league.
Off the field, he was also a tireless advocate for civil rights, fairness, kindness and humanity.
The 6-foot-10 center helped put the NBA on the map during his boyhood equivalency, but decades later, as the league became the midway monster ever since, it became clear that Russell was playing a central role in laying its foundations.
Russell defined defense in the NBA
In the early days of the NBA, defense wasn’t as prominent as it is in modern times.
The game was played at a blistering pace and the shooting percentages were lower than they are today, but the team defensive patterns or philosophies didn’t really exist back then.
But Russell, along with his head coach Red Auerbach, helped make defensive play not only fashionable, but mandatory.
The big man may have been the greatest shot blocker and rim protector of all time, and he didn’t necessarily block random shots.
Russell was smart at timing his blocked shots, and he would block shots in the direction of a teammate in order to start a quick break.
Anyone can guess how many shots he rejected, as blocked shots weren’t kept as stats until several years after his retirement.
He was also a ferocious rebounder, not to mention the emotional and spiritual leader of the team.
Russell wasn’t exactly a dominant offensive player, as he averaged just 15.1 points per game on 44.0 percent shooting for his career, but he was selfless, as he allowed his teammates to assume the load at this end of the field.
It also didn’t hurt that Russell averaged 4.3 assists in a contest over his 13 seasons.