Bill Russell, Who Transformed Pro Basketball, Dies at 88

Russell was given a scholarship and became an All-American, teaming up with the guard K.C. Jones, a future Celtic teammate, in leading San Francisco to N.C.A.A. championships in his last two seasons. Following a loss to U.C.L.A. in Russell’s junior year, the team won 55 straight games. He averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds a game for his three varsity seasons.

“No one had ever played basketball the way I played it, or as well,” Russell told Sport magazine in 1963, recalling his college career. “They had never seen anyone block shots before. Now I’ll be conceited: I like to think I originated a whole new style of play.”

In the mid-1950s, the Celtics had a highly talented team featuring Bob Cousy, the league’s greatest small man, and the sharpshooting Bill Sharman at guard and Ed Macauley, a fine shooter, up front. But lacking a dominant center, they had never won a championship.

The Rochester Royals owned the No. 1 selection in the 1956 N.B.A. draft, but they already had an outstanding big man, Maurice Stokes, and were unwilling to wage what their owner, Les Harrison, believed would be a bidding war for Russell with the Harlem Globetrotters, who were reportedly willing to offer him a lucrative deal. So the Royals drafted Sihugo Green, a guard from Duquesne.

The St. Louis Hawks had the No. 2 draft pick, but they, too, did not think they could afford Russell. Auerbach persuaded them to trade that selection to the Celtics for Macauley, a St. Louis native, and Cliff Hagan, a promising rookie. That enabled Boston to take Russell.

Russell did meet with the Globetrotters that spring but, as he stated in a January 1958 collaboration with Al Hirshberg for The Saturday Evening Post, he did not seriously consider signing with them. He found the prospect of yearlong worldwide travel unappealing and wrote how “their specialty is clowning and I had no intention of being billed as a funny guy in a basketball uniform.”

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