A player-coach (also playing coach, captain-coach, or player-manager) is a member of a sports team who simultaneously holds both playing and coaching duties. The player-coach was, for many decades, a long-time fixture in professional basketball. Many notable coaches in the NBA served as player-coaches, including Bill Russell and Lenny Wilkens.
Red Auerbach was the one who diversified the National Basketball Association. He broke the league’s color barrier when he drafted Chuck Cooper in 1950, and 14 years later he introduced the first all-black starting lineup.
When he retired in 1966, Red Auerbach cleared the way for Bill Russell to become the NBA’s first black head coach. Following another NBA Championship in 1965-66, Russell took over as player-coach the following season.
In his final three seasons, Russell not only coached the Celtics, but he also played for them. He won two of his 11 NBA championships as a player-coach.
In his first coaching season, he led Boston to a 60-21 regular-season record, but the Celtics finally had their string of championships snapped when they lost to a powerful Philadelphia 76ers team in the Eastern Division Finals.
But the following year, Russell’s team got revenge on Chamberlain and the 76ers, winning the Eastern Division finals, 4-3. The Celtics defeated the Jerry West-led Los Angeles Lakers, 4-2, in the NBA Finals, and Russell won his first championship as a player-coach and 10th title overall in 12 years. The sophomore coach also won Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman Of The Year award.
Russell went out on top with his second championship as a player-coach and 11th overall by defeating West and the Lakers, 4-3, in the rematch of the 1968 NBA Finals.
“I wasn’t offered the job because I am a Negro,” said Russell, who finished his 13-year career with five MVP awards and 12 All-Star appearances. “I was offered it because Red figured I could do it.”
In 1973, Russell resurfaced as head coach and general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics. He took a team that had won only 26 games the year before and put it on a winning track, notching 36 victories the next season and then compiling a 43-39 record to earn a playoff berth in 1974-75. But Russell became frustrated at the players’ reluctance to embrace his team concept. Some suggested that the problem was Russell himself; he was said to be aloof, moody, and unable to accept anything but the Celtics’ tradition. In any event, his enthusiasm for the task waned after his fourth season in 1976-77, and he departed.
Boston retired Russell’s No. 6 jersey in 1972, and three years later he was inducted into the Basketball Hall Of Fame.