Yes, I’m aware that Boston Celtics great Bill Russell didn’t care about numbers other than the ones on the scoreboard when the clock expired. But we as fans need to care about the numbers because it’s really all we have. There’s very little video available from the pre-70’s NBA. Russell never scored 100 in a game like Wilt Chamberlain. He didn’t put up regular triple doubles like Oscar Robertson or seemingly drop 40 every time out like Michael Jordan. But’s it’s not like Russell’s numbers and accolades aren’t impressive. And most importantly, in the categories that actually matter, Russell reigns supreme.
Bill Russell Accolades:
12 time All-Star (’58-’69), ’55 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, 5 regular season MVPs (’58, ’61, ’62, ’63. ’64), ’63 All-Star MVP, 8 All-NBA 2nd Teams, 3 All-NBA 1st teams, 4x Reboudning Champ, ’69 All-Defense 1st Team*.
*They didn’t have All-Defensive Teams or award a Finals MVP until the ’68-’69 season, the final season of Russell’s career. At least they got it right and named the Finals MVP Trophy after him.
That’s an impressive trophy case that would be even more impressive if they had all the awards they do today back then. Keep in mind that until the ’79-’80 season, players voted on MVP as opposed to media members. So three times (’58, ’61, ’62) the players voted Russell MVP despite the media only putting him on the All-NBA 2nd team. The guys who had to play against Russell knew just how dominant he was.
Bill Russell Career Stats:
Career Averages- 42.3 mpg, 22.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 15.1 ppg, ONLY 2.7 fouls per game, 10.3 defensive win shares, 18.9 PER
3 Year Peak (’62-’65)- 44.6 mpg, 24.1 rpg, 4.8 apg, 15.3 ppg, 14.3 defensive win shares, 19.0 PER
Again, they didn’t track blocks but its safe to assume Russell would’ve at least averaged five a game. The most impressive number there is that Russell was playing for almost the entire game every game. It wasn’t like he was standing around the basket either. He ran the floor as well as anyone and, along with Bob Cousy, showed the rest of the basketball world how devastating a good fast break could be.
Defensive win shares is a good indicator of just how dominant Russell was on that end and it’s a statistic that can translate throughout the history of the league. Centers did have it a bit easier back then in regards to what was a foul and what wasn’t, goaltending, 3 in the key, and so on but there’s no other individual numbers out there that can do any better. Dwight Howard, considered the best defensive center of the last ten years, has given his team an average of 6.9 defensive win shares over his career. That simply means Howard gives his team about 7 wins a year based off his defense alone. Russell gave his team 10.3 wins from his defense for his career, and added 14.3 wins a year during his peak. At his best, Bill Russell literally helped you twice as much defensively as Dwight Howard does.
Bill Russell in the Playoffs:
Playoff Averages- 24.9 rpg, 4.7 apg, 16.2 ppg
Russell’s per game stats were better in the playoffs than in the regular season. The playoff averages for both Kareem Abdul-Jabar and Wilt are lower than their regular season numbers.
Russell was also a ridiculous 10-0 in Game 7’s. His teams were 11-0 in the Finals. When the Celtics won back-to-back titles in ’68 & ’69, Russell was the star of the team and the head coach.
Check back later when we’ll be exploring quotes/testimonials about Russell, racial issues during Russell’s time, Russell’s bitter departure from the Celtics, and finally ending the debate on who is the greatest center in the history of the NBA.