Revisiting the Wild Draft Day Trade That Sent Bill Russell to the Celtics

Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell
Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell / Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

San Francisco star Bill Russell figured to go No. 1 overall in the 1956 NBA Draft, but a combination of subterfuge, homesickness, and ice skating forced a draft day trade that made Russell a Boston Celtic.

After the Celtics essentially bribed the Rochester Royals with an Ice Capades performance to pass on Russell (no, seriously, this happened), he was taken No. 2 overall by the St. Louis Hawks. The Hawks promptly flipped Russell to the Celtics in exchange for Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan.

Macauley was by no means a random dude thrown in to complete the trade. On Auerbach's Celtics, he was a six-time All-Star and Hall of Famer, and his No. 22 is retired by the organization. However, Macauley's son became sick around that time, and the St. Louis native and college star wanted to play closer to home, which prompted the trade. Hagan hadn't made it to the NBA yet due to military service, but he ended up making the Hall of Fame and playing in St. Louis for 10 years.

Still, somehow, Russell helped the Celtics win the trade. Russell averaged 15.1 points and an astonishing 22.5 rebounds per game while winning 11 championships as a player. Russell was an All-Star 12 times, All-NBA 11 times, and MVP five times. The Celtics, who drafted two other Hall of Famers in 1956 in Tommy Heinsohn and KC Jones, might have had the best single draft class in sports history that year.

Very rarely does one team acquire two Hall of Famers in one trade and end up the clear loser in that deal. Russell made the Hawks regret letting him go after establishing the Celtics as the NBA's premier franchise.