Bill Russell, Winning, and the Team
It is hard to put into words the impact Bill Russell had on the sports world. Harder still for me to capture what he meant to me as a role model. He was so much more than a basketball player and his legacy extends far beyond the court.
A Winner, Through and Through
I grew-up in Boston. A ball player from a young age, I had the opportunity to experience the great Celtics organization dominate the game. To watch them was magical. The combination of grit and talent, determination and teamwork, was something that defied convention.
And Bill Russell was the rock. The foundation by which the greatest dynasty in sports history was built. He was the epitome of a winner. His list of championships and accolades is jaw-dropping. He knew how to win and brought it to every team, at every level:
- 2 NCAA Championships
- 11 NBA Championships
- Olympic Gold Medal
- 2-time All-American
- 5-time MVP
And the list goes on.
I think my favorite Bill Russell stat was that he was 21-0 in winner-take-all games throughout his career. 21 times he came up against a do-or-die situation, with all the pressure that comes with a playoff or elimination game. And every single time, he won. It’s absolutely, astonishing.
Bill Russell was born to be a winner. But his true greatness lies not in his championships, but rather in how he won. While his personal achievements stretched a mile long, his focus was never on himself. It was always about the team.
Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Cousy once said of Russell, “Every ounce of him burned to win. It was impossible for that not to rub off on everyone he played with. He didn’t care about personal glory, never spent a second even thinking about that. Everything was team. Team, team, team.”
This is what I loved so much about Bill Russell. He had this ability to lift-up those around him. He made his teammates, his coaches, and the organizations he was part of, better. Whether he was playing, coaching, or advocating for equality and social justice (which he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for), he knew that the power of ‘Us’ was so much greater than the impact of ‘me.‘
Herein lies the legacy of Bill Russell. And the lesson that I, and many others, take with us as we reflect upon his tremendous life. The all-star of the team is the team. Period! It’s both humbling and empowering. And I often think that if we all just had a little more Bill Russell in our lives, the world would be a better place.
Be thou at peace.