Bill Russell’s historic basketball career was almost derailed before it ever got going.
Russell, a 12-time NBA All-Star and five-time league MVP, was cut from his junior high team and struggled to make his high school team. But Russell’s high school coach eventually recognized his raw, unique talent.
But Russell’s path to NBA history was still a rocky road. After leading McClymonds High School in Oakland to two state championships, the center with a unique style of defensive-oriented play received little interest from college recruiters.
The one exception was Hal DeJulio from the University of San Francisco, who was intrigued by Russell’s rebounding and shot-blocking ability and natural basketball instincts.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Russell dominated college basketball, leading USF to 55 consecutive wins and back-to-back national championships in 1955 and 1956. He averaged 20 points and 20 rebounds per game during his college career, with legendary UCLA head coach John Wooden calling him “the greatest defensive man I’ve ever seen.”
After leading the 1956 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal, Russell joined the Boston Celtics in 1956 and helped lead the team to one of the most impressive accomplishments in sports history — 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons.
Russell, who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, was named to the All-NBA Team 11 times and finished his career as one of the greatest players of all time.
Now 87, Russell is the focus of one of the most significant sports memorabilia auctions in years. Historic basketball, civil rights and other artifacts from Russell’s personal collection is being auctioned off by Hunt Auctions at a special event at TD Garden in Boston on Dec. 10.
The Bill Russell Collection has been carefully preserved by Russell and chronicles his legendary basketball career as well as his influential role in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s.
“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 are honored and very proud to present this important collection of materials in recognition of his incredible achievements.”
Russell’s basketball achievements have been well documented — he was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996 and his name bears the NBA Finals MVP trophy. But his contributions to the civil rights movement and toward racial and social justice were equally significant. A frequent target of racism as a college player at USF, Russell used those incidents to better himself and strengthen his commitment to social justice.
“I never permitted myself to be a victim,” he said.
A portion of the proceeds from the auction will benefit MENTOR, which helps ensure young people receive support through mentoring to provide them with the best opportunities to thrive and succeed. An additional auction-related donation will be made to Boston Celtics United for Social Justice to help address racial and social injustice in the Greater Boston area.
“It was 65 years ago that I joined the Boston Celtics as a rookie in December of 1956. 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,” Russell said through Hunt Auctions. “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.
“At this point in my life, I am happy to share a part of my personal collection with the world and proud that the auction will in part benefit MENTOR. … The work that MENTOR does has a special place in my heart, and I am honored to provide support in some small way. I will always cherish the memories I have accumulated over my life and career, and I hope that sharing some of these items bring others the same feeling of Celtic Pride that I feel.”
Russell’s collection of hundreds of items dates to the beginning of his career. Among the highlights are his:
• 1956 U.S. Men’s Basketball Olympic gold medal
• 1960s circa Bill Russell Boston Celtics professional model jersey
• NBA MVP Awards from 1957-58, 1961-62, 1962-63 and 1964-65
• 1964-65 NBA Championship trophy
• 1957 NBA Championship ring (first career championship)
• 1969 NBA Championship ring (final career championship)
• Bill Russell NBA 50 Greatest ring
• Bill Russell Boston Celtics career ring
• 1964 Bill Russell U.S.A. State Department NBA Tour professional model jersey
• 1968 Bill Russell 20,000th rebound presentational game basketball
• 1964 Bill Russell 10,000th point presentational game basketball
• 1960s circa Bill Russell Boston Celtics professional model jacket
For more information or to register for the Bill Russell Auction please visit www.huntauctions.com or call 610-524-0822.