When Bill Russell joined the Boston Celtics in late 1956, the team was anchored by guards Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman. But by season’s end, the focus was on the front court, where Mr. Russell played. Coach Red Auerbach, acknowledging the rookie center’s shot-blocking and passing skills, changed his approach.
The decision surprised Mr. Russell. Instead of trying to mold or change his game, his new coach had analyzed how Mr. Russell played. Mr. Auerbach recognized what it took to make Bill Russell a winning player, which helped make the Boston Celtics a winning team.
This shared passion for the game carried two men from different backgrounds through 11 championships in 13 seasons together. Their focus anchored a friendship that lasted all of Mr. Russell’s adult life, until Mr. Auerbach died on Oct. 28, 2006.