Celtics Center Who Transformed Pro Basketball’s Bill Russell dies at 88

At McClymonds High School in Oakland, Russell started on the basketball team as a senior, already focusing on defense and rebounding. A former University of San Francisco basketball player, Hal DeJulio, who sought out his alma mater, recognized Russell’s potential and recommended him to coach, Phil Woolpert.

Russell received a scholarship and became an All-American, teaming with guard KC Jones, a future Celtic teammate, in leading San Francisco to the NCAA championships in his final two seasons. Following a loss to UCLA in Russell’s junior year, the team won 55 straight games. He averaged more than 20 points and 20 rebounds per game during his three college 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’m going to be pretentious: I like to think I’ve created a whole new style of play.”

In the mid-1950s, the Celtics had a very talented team with Bob Cousy, the biggest little man in the league, and the sharpshooter Bill Sharman in custody and Ed Macauley, a good shooter, up front. But lacking a dominant center, they had never won a championship.

The Rochester Royals had the No. 1 selection in the 1956 NBA draft, but they already had an outstanding big man, Maurice Stokesand were unwilling to pay what their owner, Les Harrison, believed was a bidding war for Russell with the Harlem Globetrotters, who were reportedly willing to offer him a lucrative deal. Thus, the Royals drafted Sihugo Green, a guard from Duquesne.

The St. Louis Hawks had the No. 2 draft pick, but they too didn’t 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. This allowed Boston to take Russell.