Bill Russell Was Tough but Not Nearly as Tough as Getting His Autograph
Bill Russell was an all-around tough guy. He was tough to stop, tough to beat, and tough as nails. The only thing tougher than the former Boston Celtics center himself was trying to get his autograph during his playing days. Not even his teammates, including Tom “Satch” Sanders, were able to secure the signature of Russell.
Bill Russell now a member the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach
Russell is already a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player. Inducted in 1975 as a player after winning 11 championships with the Celtics, Russell is a Class of 2021 member as a coach. Russell became the first Black coach in the NBA when he replaced Red Auerbach in 1966.
Russell coached the Celtics for three seasons, winning a pair of championships. In Boston, he finished with a 162-83 mark in the regular season. He went 28-18 in the postseason.
Russell spent the next four years as the coach of the Seattle SuperSonics. There, he racked up a record of 162-166 in the regular season and went 6-9 in the playoffs. He coached one more year with the Sacramento Kings, finishing with a 17-41 mark.
Russell joins former teammate Tommy Heinsohn as the only Celtics to become members of the Hall of Fame as both a player and coach.
Bill Russell was quite stingy when it came to autograph requests
Getting a Russell autograph during his playing days was just as hard as trying to get a rebound away from him. Russell, who led the league in rebounding five seasons and finished with a career average of 22.5 boards per game, was in demand with the fans. He was often approached by autograph seekers, who most often left disappointed.
“In the middle of my playing career, I decided to stop signing autographs,” Russell admitted in a 2013 Christian Science Monitor article. “In part, my feelings about autographs is based upon my belief that I’d rather meet someone who approaches me respectfully, talk to them for a minute and look them in the eye, rather than participate in the momentary ritual of signing something, never looking at the person I’m signing something for, never getting to know them, and then moving on.”
Russell, in a 1963 Sports Illustrated article, said he believed signing his name for others was a waste. Before he completely shut down autograph seekers, he said he rarely signed, and most often it was just to get rid of the fans who were asking.
“If someone asks me for an autograph, I think it’s a waste, but I sign them occasionally,” he said. “Sometimes I just feel like being nice, or it gets rid of them. I personally don’t care what people think of me. I don’t think I think any different than anyone else, but I may act different.”
Russell wouldn’t even sign for teammates during his playing days
When Russell was playing with the Celtics, Sanders, one of this teammates, approached Russell for his signature. Sanders was a collector and was hoping to obtain an autograph of every person he played with. Sanders tried to give it a shot anyway.
“You, Satch, of all people, know how I feel,” Russell snapped, according to a 2014 Sports Illustrated article.
“Dammit, I’m your teammate, Russ,” Sanders responded. Russell never signed.
John Thompson, the former Georgetown coach and backup to Russell on the Celtics for a couple of years, said Russell was bothered by the fact Sanders was upset, but he stuck to his guns.
“It bothered him,” Thompson said in the 2014 Sports Illustrated story. “But doing it his way, on his own terms, was more important to him. And that’s Bill. Even if it hurt him, he was going to remain consistent.”
As the years went on, Russell lightened up a bit once he knew how much money was involved. He took part in some autograph signings, but during his playing days, obtaining a Russell autograph was as difficult as stopping him.