NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell set standards on the court that have rarely been matched, and precedents off the court that are still being felt.
Russell’s legend and significance were recognized Dec. 10 when the Bill Russell Collection sold for more than $7.4 million during a live auction conducted by Hunt Auctions at Boston’s TD Garden.
The collection featured numerous historic artifacts from Russell’s personal collection, which had been carefully preserved and chronicles his legendary basketball career and seminal role in the civil rights movement dating back to the 1950s.
The auction began with a 1969 Bill Russell Boston Celtics professional model jersey worn in Game 7 of the 1969 NBA Finals, the final game of his NBA career. The jersey, which Russell wore during a 108-106 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on May 5, 1969 at The Forum in Los Angeles, sold for $1,116,250 after heated competition from bidders in the U.S. and abroad. The jersey has been photo-matched to two images during the game and to a photo of Russell and Red Auerbach sitting in front of lockers in the Celtics dressing room. The victory marked Russell’s 11th and final NBA Championship.
Russell’s championship awards were also in high demand, with his NBA Championship rings from 1957 (his first) and 1969 (his last) drawing significant interest. The 1957 ring attracted $705,000, which is believed to be a record price for any basketball championship ring.
The 1969 ring sold for $558,125.
Russell’s five NBA MVP awards also attracted big dollars, combining to attract more than $1.3 million after aggressive bidding.
One of Russell’s most treasured awards was his 1956 U.S. gold medal. Russell delayed his entry into the NBA to compete in the Olympics and led the U.S. Men’s Basketball team to a gold medal. The medal, which remained housed in its original casing in superb original condition, sold for $587,500.
Other highlights from the Bill Russell Collection included:
• 1957-58 MVP award, $235,000.
• 1960-61 MVP award, $211,500.
• 1961-62 MVP award, $305,500.
• 1962-63 MVP award, $293,750.
• 1964-65 MVP award, $293,750.
• NBA 50 Greatest Ring, $76,375.
• Bill Russell Boston Celtics (11) Championships NBA presentational ring, $176,250.
• 1964 U.S.A. State Department NBA Tour professional model jersey, $223,250.
• 1964-65 Boston Celtics NBA Championship Trophy, $152,750.
• 1968 20,000th rebound presentational game basketball, $111,625.
• 1964 10,000th point presentational game basketball, $52,875.
• Boston Celtics professional model jacket, circa 1960s, $94,000.
• Bill Russell’s personal 1957 Topps Rookie card #77 (PSA 7 NM), $76,375.
• 1961 Lexington Boycott Game scrapbook page with Jackie Robinson letter, $94,000.
Russell was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1975 and was honored with a second Hall of Fame selection as a coach this year.
“The record-setting performance attained at the Bill Russell Collection live auction was astounding, yet not surprising. To properly convey the significance of Bill Russell as an athlete, a champion of civil rights and a towering figure in the history of American sports is impossible,” said David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions.
“Bill embodies the very essence of the title ‘champion.’ His unwavering commitment to victory, to his team and ultimately to a greater good for those that would follow him in both sports and life is perhaps without equal. We were honored and very proud to present this important collection of materials in recognition of his incredible achievements.”
A portion of the auction proceeds will be donated to MENTOR, a non-profit organization Russell founded three decades ago to promote equality through mentoring relationships for young people.
“It was 65 years ago that I joined the Boston Celtics as a rookie in December of 1956,” Russell said through Hunt Auctions. “I have been fortunate to be a part of so many historic teams and play with a great number of incredible teammates and even better men.
“I am eternally grateful to Walter Brown and my coach and lifelong friend, Red Auerbach, for allowing me to be the man I was, both on and off the court.”