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Russell Changed The Game

He was one of the greatest to have ever played the game of basketball. William Fenton Russell was the cornerstone of 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons for the Boston Celtics.

He was a five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star. But more importantly he revolutionized the way the game was played. On Dec. 2 Russell will be honored along with six others as an athlete who changed the game at the Sports Illustrated 20th Century Sports Awards. The Early Show's Bryant Gumbel reports.


Russell will receive special recognition for the extraordinary impact he had on the sport he played: basketball.

"I've always felt supremely confident in what I was doing and and that I did change the game, and to have someone actually recognize that it happened is kind of nice," Russell, says.

His legacy is probably that defense wins championships. Before he brought his defense- and shot-blocking skills, the game focused mainly on offense.

He initiated a defensive mentality that remains an integral part of championship basketball at all levels.

Ironically he will not be one of the six people honored as the best in his sport.

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"I like to think of myself as the most valuable player to ever play," he says, adding, "To make sure that my team wins most of the time was what I was about."

Russell honed his skills at the University of San Francisco and led the Dons to 55 consecutive victories and capped his college career with the 1955 and 1956 NCAA championships.

He also earned All America honors in those two years and was named Player of the Year in 1956.

As Russell's pro career began, his presence in the Celtics lineup began a dynasty in Boston, rivaled only by the New York Yankees in professional sports.

He turned the Boston team into a powerful machine that overwhelmed opponents both defensively and offensively. During his 13-year career, the Celtics won 11 NBA championships.

When asked who's the greatest athlete of the 20th century, Russell says football's Jim Brown would have to be it.

And in his opinion, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson would tie for the most important athlete of the 20th century.

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