In memory of one of the greatest rebounders ever, we have to highlight the accomplishments of Bill Russell. The former Boston Celtics legend never averaged more than 20.0 points per game. Instead, he saved that 20.0 or more average for his rebounding stats. For ten consecutive seasons, Russell averaged more than 20.0 rebounds per game. While Russell averaged 15.1 points per game in his career, what he did outside of scoring inside is what helped the Celtics win 11 championships during his time with the franchise.
That included winning eight consecutive titles from 1959 to 1966. At 6-foot-10, 215 pounds, Russell was not the biggest center ever. However, he had a strong knowledge of the game and was consistent throughout his career. Russell left the league at the age of 34 years old. He was still averaging close to 20 rebounds per night. Who knows what the total would have been having he had the strength and conditioning advice of today’s league?
Russell spent most of his career either winning rebounding titles or battling his longtime adversary Wilt Chamberlain. Here is a look at his season-by-season rebounding averages.
1956-57 Season: 19.6 RPG
After being selected as the No. 1, Russell got to work quickly. He finished fourth in the league with 943 total rebounds, which was behind 1,000-club members Maurice Stokes, Bob Pettit, and Dolph Schayes. With that said, the 19.6 rebounds per game average were good enough to lead the league. Russell recorded four games with 30 or more rebounds. That included two games of 34 rebounds.
1957-58 Season: 22.7 RPG
Russell didn’t let the critics talk about him too long. Russell won the rebounding title and corralled the league’s most rebounds. His 1,564 rebounds were over 300 more than runner-up Bob Pettit. The season saw Russell accomplish something extraordinary when he pulled down 49 rebounds in 43 minutes of action. Russell topped the 40-rebound threshold two times. He reached 30 or more rebounds nine times.
1958-59 Season: 23.0 RPG
As the years went by, Russell just kept getting better. He set a new career high with 1,612 total rebounds. This time, he led the league by over 400 rebounds. His 23.0 rebounds per game was another rebounding title, thus, bringing his career total to three rebounding championships. Russell reached 40 rebounds one time but reached 30 rebounds or more 12 times. It could have been more, but he reached 29 rebounds four other times.
1959-60 Season: 24.0 RPG
With Wilt Chamberlain in the league, it made winning rebounding titles more difficult. Chamberlain led the league in points and rebounds this season. Russell set a new career high with 1,778 rebounds, but Chamberlain nearly hit the 2K mark. Russell did accomplish something new in his career this year by reaching the 50-rebound mark once. His 51 rebounds against the Nationals was a new personal high. It was a part of 16 times that Russell reached 30 or more rebounds in a game.
1960-61 Season: 23.9 RPG
Chamberlain won another rebounding title, with Russell coming in second place. Russell hit a new career high in total rebounds for another straight season. His 1,868 rebounds were still about 280 rebounds short of Chamberlain. His season-high featured 40 rebounds. He reached the 30-rebound mark 14 times.
1961-62 Season: 23.6 RPG
For the first time, Russell didn’t surpass his career-high in total rebounds. He finished second to Chamberlain once again with 1,790 rebounds. Both Chamberlain And Russell were the only two players to average more than 20.0 rebounds per game. Russell nearly hit the 40-rebound mark but finished with a season-high 39 rebounds against the Knicks. Russell secured 30 or more rebounds 11 times, as well as 29-rebounds on four other occasions.
1962-63 Season: 23.6 RPG
As of now, this was the closest that Russell had come to overtaking Chamberlain in the rebounding chase. Chamberlain finished the season with 1,946 rebounds. Russell finished the season with 1,843 rebounds. Chamberlain won the rebounding title with 24.3 per game, but it showed how Russell could hang with the all-time great. Russell’s season-high was 43 rebounds against the Lakers. His performance excelled with 15 games of 30 or more rebounds with four other games of 29 rebounds.
1963-64 Season: 24.7 RPG
After years of defeat, Russell finally made it past his arch-nemesis. Russell posted 1,930 rebounds, which was significantly higher than the 1,787 rebounds by Chamberlain. His 24.7 rebounds per game also won the rebounding title. Russell managed to do this without reaching 40 rebounds once. With that said, he had 22 games with at least 30 rebounds or more, including his season-high of 36 rebounds against the Warriors.
1964-65 Season: 24.1 RPG
While Chamberlain dealt with issues with a trade request, Russell defeated Chamberlain by over 200 total rebounds and won the rebounding title. Russell’s 24.1 rebounds per game bested Chamberlain and Jerry Lucas, who all made the 20-rebound per game club. It featured a 49-rebound game against the Pistons and a 41-rebound game against the Warriors. That was all part of 13 games with 30 or more rebounds.
1965-66 Season: 22.8 RPG
Chamberlain returned to his rebounding greatness after falling short a few seasons. Chamberlain led the way with 1,943 rebounds, while Russell came in second with 1,779. Russell’s 22.8 average was just short of Chamberlain's 24.6 per game. Russell had one of the fewest 30 or more rebound games in his career. Russell “only” reached 30 or more rebounds seven times. His season of 36 rebounds happened two times.
1966-67 Season: 21.0 RPG
Russell reached 1,700 rebounds even, but it was not enough to claim the league lead in rebounds. Chamberlain secured 1,957 boards to lead the way with 24.2 per game. It was the first time that Russell lost to Chamberlain and didn’t get second place in the rebounding chase. His 21.0 average was third in the league as Nate Thurmond was runner-up with 21.3 per game. Russell reached 30 or more rebounds five times, which included his season-high of 37 rebounds against the Hawks.
1967-68 Season: 18.6 RPG
As Russell reached the final seasons of his career, his totals and averages took a small dip. Russell finished third to Chamberlain and Jerry Lucas in total rebounds. His 1,451 rebounds were third to both Chamberlain and Lucas in rebounding average as well. Chamberlain had one game with at least 30 rebounds. That was a 33-rebound game against the Lakers, where he also scored 25 points.
1968-69 Season: 19.3 RPG
In his final season, Russell finished third in the rebonding race. Russell lost to rebounding rival Chamberlain for the final time. Russell finished the season with 1,484 total rebounds. He was eight rebounds away from second place, which was claimed by Wes Unseld. In the rebounding averages, Nate Thurmond and Chamberlain both were ahead of Russell. Russell had four games with at least 30 or more rebounds, which included his season-high 36 rebounds against the Pistons.
Career Average - 22.5 RPG
Had Chamberlain not been around, Russell would have been a rebounding king. Chamberlain owns the all-time leading mark for rebounds with 23,924. The man in second place is Russell with 21,620. Chamberlain and Russell are the only players in NBA history to accumulate over 20,000 career rebounds. Russell’s career average is also second to Chamberlain's. Both men are also the only ones to average over 20.0 rebounds per game for their careers.
The one place that Russell has Chamberlain beat is in the playoffs. Russell owns a career rebounding average of 24.87 in the playoffs, which narrowly beats Chamberlain’s 24.46. When you win 11 championships, you have plenty of games, and Russell remained a rebounding legend in the postseason too.