If you follow the NBA closely and know the history, you know of the dominant decade the Boston Celtics had through the 1950’s and 60’s. It is known one of the most dominant time periods for any team in the history of any and all sports. The team would go on to win 11 NBA Titles in the span of thirteen years, including a streak of eight championships in a row. The team was led by Hall of Fame center Bill Russell, who many consider to be one of the most dominant players of all time, and rightfully so, as well as Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach.
This run of dominance started when, coming into the 1956-57 season, Celtics coach Red Auerbach set his eyes on Bill Russell. He felt Russell’s defensive toughness and rebounding prowess were what the Celtics were missing. The reasonung for Auerbach for wanting Russell was unorthodox, as centers and forwards in that era were judged based on offensive prowess with defense taking the back seat. Whatever the thought process behind it, Auerbach was about to change the Celtics franchise for years to come.
On draft night, Boston’s odds to draft Russell were slim to none. The Celtics were one of the best teams in the league the past year, meaning their draft pick was too low to be able to acquire Russell. During the course of draft night, Auerbach actually traded an ice show to assure Russell didn’t go first overall, and he then traded a six-time All-Star in center Ed Macauley to the St. Louis Hawksl. The former Celtics center had ties in St. Louis, and the Hawks were vying for him, so Red Auerbach pulled the trigger.
Bill Russell played in a different time, however, and had to start his rookie year late because of Olympic commitment. In his first game, which took place on December 22nd, 1956, he was charged with shutting down the star player for the St. Louis Hawks in Bob Pettit. Russell impressed many with his man-to-man style defense and shot blocking ability. This was a culture change from years past where the Celtics were just another high-scoring team that lacked defensive presence.
The addition of Russell set up for a dynasty, and we all know the results. The team was still high scoring, but they were now a defensive stalwart, and it even helped their scoring in the case of adding many fast break points. Russell not only excelled defensively, but allowed his teammates to play more aggressively as well.
The impact of Russell was almost immediate, as the Boston Celtics won the NBA Championship in his rookie year. He put up impressive stats with 14.7 points and 1.8 assists per game, but averaged 19.6 rebounds as well. Despite his statistical success, and the positive attention he drew, Bill Russell did not win Rookie of the Year. This was due to Russell only playing roughly half the regular season.
The center was far from the only man on this team though, as fan favorite point guard Bob Cousy led the team with 20.6 points per game, and also put up 7.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds as well. He went on to win MVP that year, and won six of those eleven championships with Russell. The man who actually won Rookie of the Year over Russell, Tom Heinsohn, won eight of eleven titles with Russell, and supplied 16.2 points per game.
A favorite Russell teammate in Sam Jones joined the team the following year, which proved to be a brief break from Celtics dominance. It was a fact that Jones didn’t provide much his first year, but his production slowly grew as his career continued. The Celtics would lose in the Finals to the St. Louis Hawks, however, Bill Russell did win the first of his five MVP awards that year.
The season after, Boston would start a run of eight consecutive championships. Russell would win his other four MVP awards during this stretch. Included in the run was the “The Battle of the Titans”, as Bill Russell would face possibly the greatest scorer of all time in Wilt Chamberlain. While Wilt would score more, the Celtics went on to win the game. Since then, Russell and Chamberlain would meet many times, usually with the Celtics overcoming Chamberlain’s Philadelphia Warriors.
The Celtics would lose Bob Cousy, who was on the team for six of their championships after the 1962-63 season, and replaced him with John Havlicek, who would win the last five rings the Celtics won with Russell. However, Havlicek stuck around after Russell retired and won a few more rings during his career. Some may argue that Havlicek is better than Russell himself, as he proved to be clutch in the right moments, and lead the Celtics in total points scored.
After eight straight titles, the Boston Celtics wouldn’t make the championship series in the 1966-67 season, a brief break before one last run with Russell. They went on to win the title two more years in a row, and Russell played a bigger role then in comparision to previous years. He was not only the starting center, but also the head coach of the Boston Celtics.
At this point in time, Red Auerbach had retired and proposed to give the job to three former players: Frank Ramsey, who was running three lucrative nursing homes, Bob Cousy, who didn’t want to coach former teammates, and Tom Heinsohn, who didn’t think he could handle Russell.
This was a retrospective look at the greatest run in NBA history, and one of the greatest runs in all sports. This also gave us a chance to have a brief look at the career of one of the greatest, most influential players to play. The eleven rings for Russell has yet to be topped, as well as Boston’s seventeen total championships as an organization.