William Felton Russell, born on February 12, 1934 in Monroe, Louisiana is a basketball legend and ground-breaking African-American.
In his 13 years with the Boston Celtics (1956 to 1969), he led the team to 11 NBA championships, including 8 in a row from 1959 to 1966. He was a 12-time All-Star and 5-time league MVP.
Russell led the University of San Francisco to back-to-back NCAA titles in 1955 and 1956 and was the NCAA's Most Outstanding Player in 1955. He played on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team, bringing a gold medal home from Melbourne. Rejecting an offer to play for the Harlem Globetrotters, he was drafted into the NBA by the St. Louis Hawks. Celtics coach and general manager Red Auerbach saw Russell as the missing element to complete the championship team he was building, and traded his all-star center to the Hawks to acquire him.
In 1957, the Celtics defeated the Hawks in the finals to win their first NBA title. The next year, Russell led the league in rebounds (the first of four times) and won the first of his five MVP awards. The Celtics reached the league championship series, but lost the title to the Hawks after Russell was injured in game 3.
After that, the Celtics were unstoppable, winning 8 straight championships, from 1959 to 1966, until Auerbach retired as head coach. Russell then became the first black to coach in a major American sports team since the depression. While the Celtics failed to win the championship that year, falling to the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Division finals, Russell coached them to two titles, in 1968 and 1969. To this day, he remains one of the very few successful player-coaches in pro sports.
Americentric disclaimer: by "pro sports" we really mean "major American professional sports."
Russell retired in 1969. His jersey was retired in 1972, and in 1974 he became the first African-American elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Many still consider Russell to be the greatest NBA player of all time, and he is undoubtedly the greatest defensive player in the history of the league. At a time when all the focus in the game was on offense, he brought unprecedented defensive skills to the league. He was an outstanding shot blocker before blocked shots were counted as a statistic. He amassed 21,620 career rebounds, an average of 22.5 per game, led the league in rebounding four times, and had a dozen consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more rebounds.