Basketball Titan Bill Russell’s Path to Stardom Originated in the Warriors’ Backyard

Michael Jordan, Bill Russell

Getty Former NBA greats Bill Russell (L) and Michael Jordan (R).

Legendary basketball icon Bill Russell died at the age of 88 peacefully in Mercer Island, Washington.

One of the best centers ever made his name for himself by winning 11 titles and was at the forefront along with Mohammad Ali in promoting social justice. Furthermore, Russell was the first Black head coach to hold that position in all North American sports. Although he never played for the Golden State Warriors, his impact on the Bay Area cannot be ignored.

He helped the University of San Francisco win their only two championships in 1955 and 1956, even leading the team to a franchise record 60 straight victories.

After leaving segregated Louisiana when he was eight, his family moved to Oakland and that was where he discovered his love of basketball. Believe it or not, Russell was not a natural when it came to basketball.

He was cut from his junior high basketball team and was again almost left off during his freshman year at McClymonds High School. However, his coach at the time saw untapped potential in Russell due to his athleticism and insisted for him to work on his fundamentals according to John Taylor’s book, “The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball. It was there, that Russell focused on his defense, which is what Russell is most remembered for in his playing career.

This probably reminds people of when Michael Jordan was cut from the varsity team at his high school during his freshman year. Both players would go on to become one of the top 5 best All-Time players ever.

University of San Francisco Was the Only College to Offer Russell Scholarship

As he told the Mercury News in 2007, Russell said that the relationships he formed while he was a student at McClymonds shaped the rest of his career.

“We inspired each other,” Russell said. “Truthfully, I feel like if I didn’t go to McClymonds, I wouldn’t be (who I am) today.”

All but one university offered Russell a basketball scholarship. Hal DeJulio, an assistant coach with McClymonds, convinced USF head coach Phil Woolpert to offer a chance to Russell, even though DeJulio described Russell’s game as ‘atrocious fundamentals’, according to John Taylor’s book.

At USF, the team became a dominant force and played a system that fits Russell’s style of half-court and defensive focus. By the time, the Boston Celtics nabbed Russell in a trade after the Hawks selected Russell second in the 1956 NBA Draft, Red Auerbach had his eyes on Russell to turn the Celtics into the defensive powerhouse.

Players React to the Passing of the Great Bill Russell

When Russell’s passing was announced, it sent shockwaves around the league. Most responded on social media, with Stephen Curry sending his appreciation for the great Celtic on Instagram.

Amidst the excitement of Trae Young, DeJounte Murray, Paolo Banchero, and Chet Holmgren playing at Jamal Crawford’s pro-am tournament, The Crawsover, Crawford spoke with an NBA journalist Landon Buford about Russell. The former Warrior talked about the advice and bond that Russell shared with Crawford over the years.

“He used to come the pro- am every summer. When Kyrie Irving used to come here to work out for a month. I used to have secret workouts and have Mr. Russell come and he would sit around giving wisdom and knowledge,” Crawford says.

This is just a tiny fraction of the impact Russell had on the NBA. Countless others have and will continue to share what Russell has done to help their careers or the world as a whole.

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