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>  News Releases >   2009 >   April

2009 Dartmouth Honorary Degree Recipient Bill Russell (Doctor of Humane Letters)

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 04/23/09 • Media Contact: Roland Adams (603) 646-3661

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Legendary College and Professional Basketball Star,
International Ambassador for the Game

Bill Russell

Considered one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the sport, William (Bill) Russell changed the game with seemingly effortless agility and a playing style that focused on man-to-man defense and relentless shot-blocking. He initiated a defensive mentality that remains an element of championship basketball today.

During Russell's 13 years as a professional player, all of them with the Boston Celtics, he helped lead the team to 11 NBA championships, including eight consecutive titles from 1959 to 1966. His achievements include being named NBA Most Valuable Player five times and participating in the NBA All-Star Game 12 times. He later became the first African American to coach in the NBA when he served a three-season stint as player-coach for the Celtics from 1966-69.

Born in 1934 in Monroe, Louisiana, Russell later moved with his family to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he attended McClymonds High School in Oakland. As a college student, he led the University of San Francisco to two consecutive NCAA championships (1955-56). Playing under Hall of Fame Coach Phil Woolpert and with fellow Hall of Famer K.C. Jones, Russell helped USF become one of college basketball's most exciting and accomplished teams.

Before his NBA rookie year, Russell was the captain of the U.S. national basketball team that won a gold medal in the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, defeating the Soviet Union 89–55 in the final game.

Drafted for the Celtics in 1956 by legendary Coach Red Auerbach, Russell turned the club into a powerful machine that overwhelmed opponents both defensively and offensively. In previous years, the Celtics had been a high-scoring team but lacked the defensive presence needed to close out tight games. With the added defensive presence of Russell, the team had laid the foundation for a dynasty.

Russell has been called on by both the NBA and the U.S. State Department to represent his profession and his country abroad. He was the first NBA player to visit Africa in 1969, and he first visited China in 1979. He has now led basketball clinics in more than 50 countries on six continents, deploying his lifetime of experience to build bridges across the barriers that divide humanity.

Russell is a member of both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. His achievement as a trailblazer was recognized with the NBA's first Civil Rights Award. Russell’s Boston Celtics jersey #6 was retired on March 12, 1972 in the Boston Garden. On May 6, 1999 the Celtics re-retired Russell's jersey in a ceremony at the FleetCenter, now the TD Banknorth Garden, in which Russell's on-court competitor Wilt Chamberlain as well as Celtics legend Larry Bird and Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were in attendance. The sold-out arena gave Russell a prolonged standing ovation.

< Return to 2009 Commencement Press Release

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