Year
1934

Basketball great Bill Russell born

Bill Russell, the legendary center for the Boston Celtics during the 1960s, is born in Monroe, Louisiana. During his 13-year career with the Celtics, Russell helped the team to 11 NBA championships.

As a child, Russell’s family moved from Louisiana to California to escape racism in the South. He played center for McClymonds High School in Oakland, California, and earned an athletic scholarship to the University of San Francisco. There, he became known for his strong defense and shot-blocking skills and helped lead the team to two NCAA championships, in 1955 and 1956. Despite his success, Russell experienced racial abuse from spectators and others during his playing career. After college, he captained the U.S. basketball team that won gold by defeating the Soviet Union at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. Following the Olympics, the 6’9” Russell joined the Boston Celtics in December 1956.

Before Russell’s arrival, the Celtics had never won an NBA championship. The team captured their first title in 1957 under the direction of coach Red Auerbach, and Russell and the Celtics were on their way to becoming a basketball dynasty. Russell was named the league’s MVP five times and played in 12 All-Star games during his career. His biggest rival was 7’1” center Wilt Chamberlain, who joined the NBA in 1959. Russell’s career record of 21,620 rebounds was bested only by Chamberlain’s 23,924 rebounds. Outside of basketball, the two became close friends. Russell was known as a strong team player, but off the court, the media considered him aloof and he refused to sign autographs for fans.

When Red Auerbach retired before the 1966-67 season, Russell was named player-coach, making him the first black head coach in all of American professional sports. In the final two seasons of his career, 1967-68 and 1968-69, Russell won his 10th and 11th NBA championships with the Celtics. After ending his career as a player, Russell coached the Seattle SuperSonics (1973-1979) and Sacramento Kings (1988-1989), wrote books and worked as a sports commentator. Russell, who experienced persistent racism throughout his playing career, both at home in Boston and on the road, wasn’t in attendance at the Boston Garden when his Number 6 Celtics jersey number was retired in 1972, nor when he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Last emperor of China abdicates

On February 12, 1912, Hsian-T’ung, the last emperor of China, is forced to abdicate following Sun Yat-sen’s republican revolution. A provisional government was established in his place, ending 267 years of Manchu rule in China and 2,000 years of imperial rule. The former emperor, ...read more

Scharansky released

After spending eight years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, human rights activist Anatoly Scharansky is released. The amnesty deal was arranged by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan at a summit meeting three months earlier. Scharansky was ...read more

Rommel in Africa

On this day, German General Erwin Rommel arrives in Tripoli, Libya, with the newly formed Afrika Korps, to reinforce the beleaguered Italians’ position. In January 1941, Adolf Hitler established the Afrika Korps for the explicit purpose of helping his Italian Axis partner ...read more

Release of U.S. POWs begins

The release of U.S. POWs begins in Hanoi as part of the Paris peace settlement. The return of U.S. POWs began when North Vietnam released 142 of 591 U.S. prisoners at Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport. Part of what was called Operation Homecoming, the first 20 POWs arrived to a hero’s ...read more

Abraham Lincoln is born

On this day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln is born in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Lincoln, one of America’s most admired presidents, grew up a member of a poor family in Kentucky and Indiana. He attended school for only one year, but thereafter read on his own in a continual effort to ...read more

Lorne Greene is born

Lorne Greene, the actor who played Ben Cartwright on the immensely popular television Western Bonanza, is born in Ontario, Canada. An only child, Greene later said he based his portrayal of Ben Cartwright on his own father, Daniel Greene. Greene’s rise to national stardom in ...read more

Iranian jet slams into mountain

On this day in 2002, an Iranian passenger jet crashes into the side of a mountain, killing all 117 people on board. Iran Air Tours, a subsidiary of Iran Air, scheduled the Russian-built Tupolev 154 jet to leave Tehran, Iran’s capital city, at 6:30 a.m. It was to be a short flight ...read more

Actor Sal Mineo is killed in Hollywood

Actor Sal Mineo is stabbed to death in Hollywood, California. Mineo was parking his car behind his apartment when neighbors heard his cries for help. Some described a white man with brown hair fleeing the scene. By the time they reached Mineo, he was almost dead from a deep wound ...read more

Russian ships bump U.S. destroyer and cruiser

Two Soviet warships bump two U.S. navy vessels in waters claimed by the Soviet Union. The incident was an indication that even though the Cold War was slowly coming to a close, old tensions and animosities remained unabated. The incident between the ships took place in the Black ...read more