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There are champions, and then there is Bill Russell. Russell is the champion of champions, as he owns the most NBA championship rings of any player in the history of the game, with 11, and has been winning off the court for a half-century.

Russell was born in Monroe, La., on Feb. 12, 1934. As the years passed and he moved on from his time spent at McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif., it was clear that his life would revolve around the game of basketball.

The University of San Francisco is lucky enough to call Russell one of its alumnus, as the 6-foot-10 giant attended the school from 1952-56. During his stay there, Russell led the Dons to back-to-back undefeated and national championship seasons in 1955 and 1956. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 1955 NCAA tournament and then reeled in the National Player of the Year award in 1956.

Russell entered the 1956 NBA Draft upon the conclusion of his celebrated collegiate career. The St. Louis Hawks selected him with the second overall pick, but there was another hawk with his eyes set on Russell from afar.

Red Auerbach, who is regarded as one of the top basketball minds the game has ever seen, was enamored with Russell and willing to do nearly anything to get him. The Hawks played hardball with Auerbach and the Celtics and demanded a hefty ransom for Russell’s draft rights. St. Louis’ demands weren’t enough to push Auerbach away, though, as he eventually traded away six-time All-Star Ed Macauley and the draft rights to Cliff Hagan to acquire Russell.

At the time of the move, Auerbach may have been the only one who knew what kind of impact it could make. In hindsight, that trade is now viewed by many as the most important trade ever concocted in American sports.

Why, you might ask? Just take a look at his 10 fingers, which are adorned with 10 championship rings… with one more ring to spare.

Russell’s dominant play around the paint changed the dynamic of the NBA for 13 seasons. He was the missing piece that the Celtics – and every other team in the league, for that matter – were missing. Russell would go on to average 15.1 PPG, 22.5 RPG and 4.3 APG during his 13-year career. He grabbed 40 rebounds in two separate NBA Finals games and is one of only two players to grab more than 50 rebounds in a single NBA game (51 rebounds on Feb. 6, 1960 vs. Syracuse).

The level of success Russell experienced during his career was unprecedented, and it hasn’t even been approached since. He won 11 titles and made 12 All-Star teams in just 13 seasons. He also managed to win five MVP awards, and even pulled in an MVP award at the 1963 All-Star game.

His success certainly was not limited to his playing skills, either. Russell doubled as the Celtics’ head coach for his final three seasons and won two championships during that reign. But what might be even more important than his playing and coaching achievements was his impact in the community.

Russell is revered as one of the greatest civil rights advocates American sports, and the country as a whole, has ever seen. Throughout his playing days and all the way up to the present day, Russell has continually pushed for equality and has never shied away from speaking his thoughts. And when he speaks, everyone listens.

Proof of such arrived in February, when Russell’s push for civil rights and his knack for mentoring were acknowledged at the highest of levels. President Barack Obama awarded Russell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the highest honor an American civilian can receive. The city of Boston also chose 2011 as the year to dedicate a space to the legacy of Russell. It was announced in July that an interactive statue of the legendary Celtic will soon be placed in City Hall Plaza, where fans and tourists alike will be able to commemorate his greatness.

Those two accolades can be added to the long list that Russell has compiled since he burst onto the national scene in the 1950s. He was the first African American player to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on April 28, 1975 and he has also been chosen to the NBA’s 25th, 35th and 50th anniversary teams. The Celtics honored him by retiring his No. 6 jersey on March 12, 1972. National media outlets have showed their admiration of him by giving him two distinguished awards, which point out his brilliance both on the court and off. First, Sports Illustrated named him the Sportsman of the Year in 1968. Twelve years later, in 1980, the Professional Basketball Writers Association of America named him the Greatest Player in the History of the NBA. Some phenomenal players have come and gone since, most notably Michael Jordan, but Russell is still regarded as one of the greatest who ever lived.

Needless to say, Russell’s legacy is as grand as they come. From the beginning of his playing days through the decades that have passed since, he has made an indelible impact on everything he has touched. For 13 years, it was the Celtics organization, and that is why he is regarded as the greatest champion of all time.

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