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If you like Bill Russell's story, you might also like:
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
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Julius Erving,
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and Andrew Young

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Bill Russell
 
Bill Russell
Profile of Bill Russell Biography of Bill Russell Interview with Bill Russell Bill Russell Photo Gallery

Bill Russell Interview (page: 7 / 8)

Cornerstone of the Boston Celtics' Dynasty

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  Bill Russell

You became a player-coach -- the first African American coach in major league sports. How did that come about?

Bill Russell Interview Photo
Bill Russell: Well, my coach was my friend, okay? We won eight straight championships, which is pretty good. And he says to me, "You know I've got to find a replacement. Do you want the job?" "Of course not. I watched you go through this stuff for ten years. Do you think I want to try that?" He says, "Okay. I'm not going to hire a coach that you do not give me 100 percent approval." He says, "I'm not going to let some guy come in here and start messing with you, because you've been too much to this franchise and played too hard for this franchise." He said the first thing a guy is going to do, if we get the wrong guy, is to say, "I'm not Red Auerbach, so I got to coach the way I want to coach." And one of the first things he's going to attack is the fact that after I got in shape I didn't practice anymore. And that came about because Red and I worked out a formula of minutes.

I would play the first ten minutes and sit down the last two minutes, and three minutes between quarters, and then there's 15 minutes between half time. So I was playing 46 minutes a game. And he asked me one day what's wrong with me, and I said, "I'm tired." He said, "You're tired?" I said yeah. He said, "Well, don't practice." He says it didn't make sense to play for 46 minutes of a game and then wear you out in practice too. Everybody has a limited amount of stamina, and I have to take that into consideration. And also, I worked out a formula how I could rest while on the court without going to the bench.


So he says, "I'm going to make a list of six guys, and you make a list of six guys. And we find one guy that fits on both lists, that could be our new coach." There was no match. So he says, "Well, I'm going to hire this guy." I says, "Oh no. If you hire this guy..." -- he brought his name up -- "... if you hire him, I'm retiring with you." He says, "You mean that?" "Yes, I do. I'm not going to play for him. I don't even want to be in the same room with him." And so he said, "What do you want me to do?" I go, "Okay. I'll take it. You offered it to me first, I'll take it. But if it doesn't work -- and we'll see whether it works or not -- we can bring in somebody else, even if it's midseason and I will never complain and I'll play just as hard for him as I play for you." Because we were both interested in what was good for the Celtics and not what makes him look good or me look good or bad or whatever. It has nothing to do with anything. That's how I became the player-coach. But one thing I have to add is that, because I'm kind of hard-headed, I refused to have an assistant coach. And one of the reasons -- not the total reason, but one of the reasons -- was I knew that to do a good job right I had to completely, totally immerse myself into the position. And if I hired an assistant coach I would start laying off things for him to do that I should be doing, things that I watched Red do for ten years. See, he never had an assistant coach. Like one time he said to me, "Do you want me to hire you an assistant coach?" I said, "Yeah, we'll just hire one of yours." He had never had one!

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


What do you think when people make comparisons between today's players and the players who came before?

Bill Russell Interview Photo
Bill Russell: Sports Illustrated came out with a copy and said, "Is Dennis Rodman the greatest rebounder?" And Wilt called me up immediately and he was outraged. He said, "You kidding me? What does he average? Twelve? Thirteen rebounds a game?" See, Wilt averaged 22.9 and I averaged 22.5. So I says to Wilt, I says, "It's obvious to me that you were the greatest rebounder ever." He says, "Why do you say that?" I said, "Well, I was 22.5, you averaged 22.9. But you did it for 14 seasons and I did it for 13 seasons. He says, "Well I differ with you." I say, "Why would you do that?" He says, "Well, you hold all the rebound records in the playoffs. There's nobody even close to your total rebounds at playoffs." In fact, I needed about three or four more rebounds in my career and I would have averaged 25 rebounds a game in playoffs, because I was at 24.9.

Which one of you holds the record for number of rebounds per game?

Bill Russell: No. He holds that! Against me!

But not by much.

Bill Russell: He got 55. Fifty-five! Can you imagine that?

Didn't you get 50 once?

Bill Russell: I got 51. But that was against another team

That's not bad.

Bill Russell: No, we're the only two guys ever did 50. And we had tons of games in the 40s. But in the New York paper, they used to accuse me of pretending I was his friend so he'd take it easy. Some guy said that. So I said, "Let me tell you a couple of things. First of all, I want you to explain to me how getting 55 rebounds on me is taking it easy! I want to find out that one. And second, you're always saying about what I did to Wilt What I did to Wilt? If you win eight straight championships you did that to everybody. You can't just say I beat Wilt. I beat everybody!

You left Boston after retirement. Why is that?

Bill Russell Interview Photo
Bill Russell: Well, I'm embarrassed to say I had a broken marriage. "Irrevocably broken" the word is. And if I wasn't playing for the Celtics there was nothing for me to do in Boston. But I had to feed my wife and three kids. So what was I going to do in Boston? There was nothing for me to do, so to get away from the broken marriage and trying to figure out a way to take care of my kids, I went to Los Angeles. I have an uncle in New York but I couldn't stay on the East Coast. The reason I went to Los Angeles was, as I said, "That's a place where you could make a nice living with no talent!"

There was a Speaker's Bureau in Boston, and they asked if I would do a couple of college speaking tours in '68. So I said, "I think I'm going to drive to L.A. in the summer." So they made two speaking dates and that would pay for my trip there and back. So I spoke in Minnesota -- it might have been mostly Minnesota. First it was at Mankato State. After I spoke and left the guy that arranged the speech for the college, he brought all of his contemporaries at other schools and said, "This is a guy you might want to have come to talk." So the first two years after I retired from the Celtics, I ended up doing 200 speeches in colleges. That's what I did for a while, until ABC asked me to do the basketball games.

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This page last revised on Sep 02, 2008 12:55 EDT
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