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My Blog


"Hey, Bill!" Defense

Posted on August 2, 2022 at 11:15 AM


The only way to stop this guy from playing defense was to lock the dressing room door before he came out. He was born to wear green and white. If he had learned to shoot a hook shot with both hands, they would have stopped playing the game of basketball. The man was a jokester, remarkably funny. The first thing I remember is his smile, and then it’s his laugh. He’s the only guy I knew who could laugh while he talked. It was more like a cackle than a laugh, but that cackle was unmistakable.

Standing 6 feet 10 inches tall and weighing 220 pounds; everything about him was oversized, even his hands. If he walked into a room, it was like the sun came in right behind him. You could feel the energy in the air on game day. This guy was born to win. You may not have liked him, but you admired him. The man was sometimes hard to accept, but he was rarely dull. He was not a touchy, feely kind of guy. The man was serious, never smiled, gave short answers, everything about him was defensive, and there was something about his eyes. He never backed down from anybody. This fellow played mean. His stare would land you on the disabled list. If he said he was going to get you, then he was going to get you. In Boston, basketball mattered. Being #1 is earned. Luck has nothing to do with it. You could tell he was going to turn things around right away.

He was the kind of guy you could build a team around. Even as a center, he could run the floor and dribble the basketball. He had tremendous focus and anticipated everything that was going to happen on the court. He was the first professional to play the ball instead of the man. Others watched their opponent. Bill never took his eyes off the ball. Bill Russell was in constant motion and helped create the Celtics fast-break offense. In the early 1950s, the Celtics had always been a high-scoring team, but lacked the defensive presence needed to win tight games. Russell became famous for his shot-blocking skills, man-to-man defense and rebounding. It was Russell to his left, Russell to the right, Russell down the middle. He became the guy who allowed the Celtics to play the so-called “Hey, Bill” defense. Not only did he guard his man, but whenever his teammate requested additional defensive help, they would shout “Hey, Bill!” Russell was so quick that he could run over for a quick double-team and make it back in time, if opponents tried to find the open man. He was able to do this all while protecting the basket.

It has been said that the criteria for greatness and being the best at what you do or what you’ve ever done, is to ask if the history of what you did be written without mentioning your name. Think of how much history could be written without mentioning Bill Russell’s name. The answer: very little. Bill Russell was the ultimate winner. His name to this very day defines the Boston Celtics. The fire in Bill Russell never went out, not until the day he passed away. That day was Sunday, July 31, 2022. He was 88.


Andy Purvis



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