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On July 31, 2022, Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell died. While Russell made his mark in the NBA by winning 11 championships, he also made his mark off the court as a civil rights activist.

Beginning tonight, we’ll be hearing a lot about Russell. As the Celtics open the 2022-23 NBA season by hosting the Philadelphia 76ers, Russell’s No. 6 will be on players’ jerseys, near the scorer’s table, and inside the paint at TD Garden.

Russell called Boston home for all 13 of his NBA seasons. Although he’s widely considered the man responsible for creating Boston’s dynasty that began in the late 1950s, he once said there were three people responsible for making the Celtics special during his era.

Bill Russell will get a lot of attention beginning tonight

Bill Russell is honored at halftime of the game between the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat at TD Garden on April 13, 2016, in Boston, Massachusetts. | Mike Lawrie/Getty Images.

The Celtics and Sixers clash in the first game of an NBA doubleheader to start the season that begins tonight. Throughout the season, teams will wear a No. 6 patch on their jerseys to honor Russell. That No. 6 will also be displayed on the floor near the scorer’s table.

The Celtics will go a little more in-depth in honoring their former star. That No. 6 will be displayed inside the paint on both ends of the floor at TD Garden. The Celtics will also have two Bill Russell Tribute Nights, one on the season opener and the other on Feb. 12, his birthday.

Boston will also wear a special Bill Russell City Edition uniform throughout the season. The team will wear those jerseys in 12 games, six at home and six on the road.

Russell, a 6-foot-10 center, was a five-time NBA MVP and a 12-time All-Star. He revolutionized the game with his heavy emphasis on defense. Russell was a master of the blocked shot and led the league in rebounding five times. He averaged 22.5 rebounds per game for his career. While Russell displayed tremendous athleticism that led to his shot-blocking and rebounds, he once said his mental game was just as important as his physical one.

“Basketball is a game that involves a great deal of psychology,” Russell said during the early part of the 1963 season, according to Sports Illustrated. “The psychology in defense is not blocking a shot or stealing a pass or getting the ball away. The psychology is to make the offensive team deviate from their normal habits. This is a game of habits, and the player with the most consistent habits is the best. What I try to do on defense is to make the offensive man do not what he wants but what I want.”

Russell said three men were responsible for making the Celtics special during his era


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In an undated interview with Charlie Rose, Russell and Rose spoke about Russell’s days with the Celtics. Rose asked the former Boston center if he felt the Celtics were “special” during his playing days or if they were just like any other team.

Russell didn’t hesitate with his answer.

“Really special,” Russell said in the interview put out by Celtics All Access on CLNS. “Three guys were responsible for that. Walter Brown, the original owner of the Celtics, Red Auerbach, and Bob Cousy. I know when I went there, those three guys were, ‘We’re really glad you’re here, and anything we can do to help you, we’ll do it. Don’t hesitate to ask.’

“I have always considered Cousy a near-perfect teammate. When I came there, I had this huge publicity build-up, and he was the star of the team. He could’ve said, ‘Hey listen, I’m the star,’ but what he said was, “Let’s do it.’

“Within a month — I joined the team in midseason — he was collaborating with me. For example, one of the things I was best at — I approached the game from defense first, then offense — I would get a rebound, and Cousy would say, “Instead of looking for me, I’ll be over here, so you don’t have to look for me.’ I could pass the ball before I landed.”

Truthfully, Russell was the guy who made the Celtics special. He revolutionized the game with that defense he talked about. He made blocked shots a thing, even though during his era they weren’t considered a stat. Russell gave credit to three men who played a key role in Boston’s success, but he short-changed himself when talking about what made the Celtics special during his era.