In Memory of Bill Russell: His Roots in Golf; The legendary Michael Jordan story

Bill Russell died Sunday at the age of 88.

Considered by many to be the sport’s best player (and certainly the big guy) of all time, the NBA Hall of Famer is best known for winning 11 championships in 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, including eight in a row from 1959 to 1966. The 6-foot-tall center was A 10-time player, a 12-time All-Star, a two-time NCAA Champion at the University of San Francisco and an Olympic gold medalist in 1956. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

He didn’t start playing golf until after his playing career ended.

Speaking with GolfChannel.com’s Rex Hoggard in 2014, just months after undergoing open-heart surgery, Russell explained how he got started in golf. It was either his first All-Star game or his second – he can’t remember – and he and the other competitors were talented groups of golf clubs.

However, Russell wasn’t at all eager to break out his new group.

“I immediately put them in the garage,” said Russell, who had not retrieved them for years, even after he hung up his basketball shoes.

“When I was growing up, I had some time, so I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll play golf,'” he added. “So, I took out the clubs and they were right-handed. I didn’t know that all that time.”


For the record: Hero and Teacher, Bill Russell


When he finally bought himself a left-handed set, Russell scratched the competition itch in matches against friends. But Russell admitted that the quality of golf displayed by these top four wasn’t exactly pretty.

“No one can play,” he said. “If you shoot 101, you will win all the money. The high score will be 160.”

Subsequently, Russell played for several pros, including the annual leg of the PGA Tour at Pebble Beach, occasionally with avid golfer Michael Jordan. One of these tours during Jordan and Bulls Peak produced one of the best up-and-coming stories—and made the story even better, Jordan, for once, was on the receiving end.

As Russell once said, “I think he’s a great player and I totally respect him. We were in the middle of the golf course. They just won the championship. He says, ‘You know we’re going to go after your record.'” I said, ‘Which one?…You know, we won’ 11, but we’ve won eight in a row. I don’t think you’re going to live long enough to get either of them.”

Bill Russell with Lee Elder

When Russell underwent surgery to replace a valve in his heart, he was on the golf course almost every day. After the operation, it took months for Russell to get back in play.

“My heart wasn’t very kind about it,” he said. “It wasn’t a huge loss, though. I’ve never been very good anyway.”

It wasn’t good on hardwood either. He was wonderful. All times are great.

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