Bill Russell: Coaching for the Culture

Over the years there have been numerous black athletes that have opened doors for African Americans, but there may have been none bigger than Bill Russell. He is a former NBA player who spent his entire 13 year career with the Boston Celtics. He won a record 11 championships and led one of the greatest dynasties in sports history. However maybe his biggest contribution to the sport came when he became the first ever black coach not only in NBA history but also in major U.S sports history. This opened the door for future African American NBA champion head coaches such as Lenny Wilkins and Doc Rivers.

Prior to Bill Russell becoming head coach of the Boston Celtics basketball he had been a player for Boston for 10 years. During that time period, he experienced multiple forms of racism such as being denied services at restaurants due to skin color, derogatory names and even had his house broke into because he lived in a white neighborhood. Due to that, he never really connected with the fans of Boston. At one point in 1979 he even called Boston a “Flea market of racism.”

When he first came into the league he brought with him a style of basketball that had yet to be seen at the time. Things such as shot blocking and dunking up to that point wasn’t something NBA players did at that particular point in time. Due to these skills this allowed him to reach superstardom. Which in turn allowed him to bring racial issues to the attention of the media.

In 1966 when he became the first ever black head coach, he wasn’t even the first or second option to coach the team. He was only picked after other white players turned down the opportunity. So when he was picked he was not only the first black head coach, he became a player-coach. His second season as head coach of the Celtics led to him becoming the first ever African American coach to win a championship. During this season he also led/coached the team to becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit.

Bill Russell broke the color barrier in the NBA, his legacy as both an active NBA player and a coach have lived on in the NBA to this day. On the court shot blocking is no longer a thing that nobody knows about. As a coach his influence on the game has been seen since he retired from the game. In the late 1980’s, teams started hiring coaches in bunches. By the beginning of the 2012 season there were 14 black head coaches in the NBA. Due to him standing up against racism while he was a player and a coach, the NBA and its fan base have started to see black players in a new light.




21B HUB-Robeson Center


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