The NBA was shocked and saddened to learn of the untimely passing of Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell yesterday afternoon. Russell's impact on the NBA and the game of basketball is immeasurable, and it will be a long time before we forget about the impact that Russell had on and off the court.
Heinsohn can't believe the lack of respect Russell gets for his accomplishments, particularly in Boston
Russell is responsible for the first great dynasty with the Celtics in the NBA. Of the 13 seasons Russell played in, he won titles in 11 of them. Other great players flanked Russell, but he was the centerpiece of Boston's winning, and his success on the court made him the face of the NBA's first dynasty.
One of the players who played alongside Russell during his stint was Tommy Heinsohn. Heinsohn was part of eight championships with Russell and knows just how important he is to the history of the NBA and basketball in Boston.
That's why Heinsohn was always confused as to why Russell didn't necessarily get the respect he deserved, especially from the city of Boston, where he spent his entire playing career. Heinsohn laid it out perfectly in an interview with Sports Illustrated in 1999.
"Look, all I know is, the guy won two NCAA championships, 50-some college games in a row, the ['56] Olympics, then he came to Boston and won 11 championships in 13 years, and they named a f------ tunnel after Ted Williams." - Tommy Heinsohn, Sports Illustrated
Heinsohn is correct in saying that Russell doesn't get the respect he deserves
For all that Russell accomplished throughout his career, it's somewhat surprising that it feels like he has always been given far less credit than he deserves. His detractors note that many of Russell's championships came when there were only eight teams in the NBA, meaning he had a much easier path than other stars regarding his winning ways. Even in Boston, other star athletes had their names attached to the city ahead of Russell, who won more than all those stars combined.
It's sad how Russell's impact on the game sometimes feels lost. He revolutionized basketball with his rebounding and shot-blocking prowess. Defensive gameplay changed due to his efforts, and it probably wouldn't be the same had he not made it to the NBA.
Off the court, Russell was known for his political work and activism, which always was marred by a rocky relationship with the folks of Boston. But Russell helped overcome racism and color barriers in the NBA, first as a player and then as a coach. Had he not, the city of Boston that prides itself on winning would probably have 11 fewer championships than they do now.
Heinsohn's quote about Russell still rings true today and is interesting to reflect on with Russell's passing yesterday. Russell is one of the most remarkable people ever to grace the NBA, and it took his passing for folks to remember just how good of a person he was. Hopefully, we won't forget how impactful Russell was anytime soon.