Bill Russell, who led the University of San Francisco Dons to back-to-back NCAA tournament titles in 1955 and 1956 before becoming the most decorated champion in NBA history with his 11 championships with the Boston Celtics, is celebrating his 80th birthday on Tuesday.
The Dons were 57-1 in Russell’s junior and senior seasons, beating La Salle for the NCAA championship in 1955 and completing an undefeated 1955-56 season with a title game victory over Iowa.
Their lone loss in Russell’s final two seasons was an early-season defeat at the hands of UCLA in November 1955. They got some measure of revenge the following season, beating the Bruins at Madison Square Garden in late December and eliminating UCLA from the NCAA tournament with a 72-61 victory in the Far West Regional semifinals.
Russell was also the driving force behind a U.S. Olympic team that won gold in Melbourne, Australia, in November and December, a commitment to his country’s national team that forced him to delay his NBA career by a couple of months.
It wasn’t a problem for the Celtics, who went on to win the title in Russell’s rookie season, lost in the NBA Finals in 1958 and then put together an unprecedented run in North American major sports by winning eight straight NBA titles.
Russell also coached the Celtics his final three seasons, losing in the Eastern Division Finals to the 76ers in 1967 before closing out his playing career with back-to-back titles in 1968 and 1969.
Russell was a five-time NBA MVP, had the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award named after him and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.
Russell was born Feb. 12, 1934, in Monroe, La., but attended Oakland’s McClymonds High School, one of several future NBA players to come from McClymonds, including Antonio Davis, Paul Silas and Nate Williams.
From there, he went on to become a standout at USF before being drafted second overall by the St. Louis Hawks. He was acquired by Boston in a trade for All-Star Ed Macauley and rookie Cliff Hagen—a pretty decent deal by Red Auerbach in retrospect.
There will always be a debate over who the greatest NBA player in history really is, but if championships are the currency of greatness, there is no man ever wealthier than Bill Russell.