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Bill Russell Fast Facts

CNN Editorial Research

Here’s a look at the life of Bill Russell, 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and the first Black head coach in the league.


Birth date: February 12, 1934

Death date: July 31, 2022

Birth place: Monroe, Louisiana

Birth name: William Felton Russell

Father: Charles Russell

Mother: Katie (King) Russell

Marriages: Jeannine Fiorito (2016-July 31, 2022, his death); Marilyn Nault (1996-January 2009, her death); Dorothy “Didi” Anstett (1977-1980, divorced); Rose Swisher (1956-1973, divorced)

Children: with Rose Swisher: Karen, William Jr. “Buddha” and Jacob

Education: University of San Francisco, B.A., 1956

Other Facts

Six-foot-nine center known for his defense and ability to block shots.

Won 11 NBA championships in his 13 years with the Boston Celtics in 1957, 1959-1966 and 1968-1969.

Five-time NBA Most Valuable Player in 1958, 1961-1963 and 1965.

Twelve-time NBA All-Star from 1958-1969 and All-Star MVP in 1963.

Served as a commentator for televised basketball games in between his coaching jobs.

Founder and Emeritus board member of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.

Younger brother of playwright Charlie L. Russell.


1955 and 1956 – Leads the San Francisco Dons to back-to-back NCAA basketball championships and an undefeated season in 1956.

April 29, 1956 – Selected second overall in the NBA draft by the St. Louis Hawks and then traded to the Boston Celtics.

November 1956 – Captain of the US men’s basketball team that wins gold in the Melbourne Olympics.

December 1956-1969 – Center with the Boston Celtics.

August 28, 1963 – Attends the March on Washington where civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. delivers his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

1966-1969 – Serves as player-coach of the Boston Celtics, making him the first African-American head coach in the NBA.

1973-1977 – Head coach and general manager of the Seattle SuperSonics.

1975 – Russell is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame but does not attend the ceremony.

November 1987-1988 – Head coach of the Sacramento Kings.

2001 – A memoir/motivational book, “Russell Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership from the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Winner,” is published.

February 2009 – NBA Commissioner David Stern announces that the Finals MVP Trophy will be renamed the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award.

February 2011 – Receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

October 2011 – Joins other players in a class action lawsuit against the NCAA, Electronic Arts and the Collegiate Licensing Company for using their likenesses in a videogame without permission or compensation.

October 16, 2013 – Is arrested for bringing a loaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun to Sea-Tac International Airport in Seattle. He is issued a state citation and released.

November 1, 2013 – A bronze statue of Russell is unveiled on Boston City Hall Plaza. The statue is erected by the Bill Russell Legacy Project, which also developed the Bill Russell Mentoring Grant Program.

July 17, 2014 – Is briefly hospitalized after collapsing on-stage during a speaking engagement near Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Celtics officials later say that Russell is feeling better and expected to fly home to Seattle that same day.

August 8, 2014 – A federal judge rules in favor of Russell and other college athletes who sued to end the NCAA’s control over the rights to college athletes’ names, images and likenesses.

July 2015 – A federal judge approves the final settlement of $60 million stemming from lawsuits involving Russell and other college athletes. The Collegiate Licensing Company and Electronic Arts case is settled for $40 million and the NCAA case is settled for $20 million, as agreed upon in 2014.

May 18, 2018 – Is taken to the hospital from his home in Seattle because of dehydration. Russell is released the next day.

November 15, 2019 – In a private ceremony, accepts his Basketball Hall of Fame ring from 1975. Russell tweets that he “refused being the 1st black player” to have that honor and mentions Chuck Cooper who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in September 2019.

September 12, 2021 – Is inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach. Russell’s winning record as an NBA head coach stands at 341-290 in the regular season and 34-27 in the playoffs.

July 31, 2022 – Passes away “peacefully” at age 88, according to a family statement.

August 11, 2022 – The NBA announces it will permanently retire Russell’s No.6 jersey throughout the league.

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