Bringing Bill Russell on Board: Boston Celtics Championship History Moment No. 1
Then they added the dagger. They pulled off a trade for the legendary Bill Russell, who was taken second overall in the 1956 NBA Draft by the St. Louis Hawks. Adding Russell paved the way for 11 Celtics championships in 13 years, including eight straight, beginning in 1957.
In honor of the Boston Celtics’ 17 championships, we’ve highlighted 17 signature moments, both good and bad, that took the Celtics from a woeful 22-38 debut in 1946-47 to the current iteration of the longtime powerhouse franchise that’s now coming off an NBA Finals appearance. The 17-part series on the Celtics’ championship history ran through the summer and took us to opening night of the 2022-23 NBA season, one Boston hopes ends with Banner No. 18.
The Celtics acquired Bill Russell in a trade with the St. Louis Hawks
Russell’s game was rebounding and defense. He wasn’t a high-scoring center with a great shooting touch, but the Celtics needed a presence in the middle. The chances of acquiring him through the draft were slim-to-none, so the Celtics got creative in 1956.
The Rochester Royals had the top pick in the 1956 NBA Draft but already had a strong frontcourt. The Royals took Sihugo “Si” Green, a 6-foot-2 guard from Duquesne. Green played 13 games in his rookie year, and then military duty prevented him from playing in his second year. He returned to the Cincinnati Royals the following season and then was traded to the Hawks.
Green played nine seasons in the NBA, averaging 9.2 points and 4.3 rebounds.
The Hawks picked second and selected Russell out of San Francisco. They also had interest in Boston’s center Ed Macaulay, a six-time All-Star. Macaulay had local ties to the Hawks. He was a native of St. Louis and played college ball there. The Celtics and Hawks pulled off a deal, with the Celtics adding future Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan to the trade that brought Russell to Boston.
Also in that 1956 draft, the Celtics took K.C. Jones in the second round. Jones was a 6-foot-1 guard who also played collegiately at San Francisco. Boston secured three Hall of Famers with a pair of draft picks and a trade in 1956.
The biggest move was Russell. His rebounding and shot-blocking ability set him apart. Russell owned the paint, averaging 22.5 rebounds per game in his NBA career. He led the league in rebounding five times.
Russell was a winner on and off the court
While Russell was rebounding, blocking shots, and winning championships on the court, he was just as dominant off it. Russell fought racism during his time in the NBA and was a civil rights activist. In 1963, he told Sports Illustrated that making a name for himself on the court was fine, but he wanted to make his mark as a person.
“The contribution I’d like to make as a person — to my kids and little Black kids all over the world — is to make life better, so their ambitions aren’t stifled when they face the world, to give them the opportunity to do what they’re most skilled at. I could have a burning ambition to give my kids a million dollars. If I gave them that alone, I’d be giving them nothing.”Bill Russell, to Sports Illustrated in 1963
Russell became the league’s first Black coach after Auerbach retired in 1966. He’s a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player (inducted in 1975) and as a coach (inducted in 2021).
When it came to basketball, he made his mark as a player. He led the Celtics to 10 straight NBA Finals appearances, beginning with his rookie year. Boston won nine of them. He added two more championships in 1968 and 1969.
Russell’s physical ability was matched by his mental game. He said while pulling down rebounds and swatting shots got him in the spotlight, it was his psychological approach that led him to all those rebounds and blocks.
“Basketball is a game that involves a great deal of psychology,” Russell told 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.”
While the Celtics brought in several pieces in 1956, Russell is the man who led the way — on and off the court.
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