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Russell Is Now Back in the NBA : Former Celtic Hired as New Kings Coach

April 28, 1987|Associated Press

SACRAMENTO — Bill Russell, five times the National Basketball Assn.'s Most Valuable Player and a player-coach of the world champion Boston Celtics during the 1960s, Monday was named head coach of the Sacramento Kings.

King Managing General Partner Gregg Lukenbill and President Joe Axelson said Russell signed a seven-year contract to serve as head coach for an unspecified number of years and eventually succeed Axelson as general manager and president.

They said Jerry Reynolds, who succeeded Phil Johnson as interim head coach after Johnson was fired during the All-Star break, will return to his previous post as assistant coach next year under Russell.

Russell, 53, who in 1980 was selected as the greatest player in the history of the NBA by the Professional Basketball Writers' Assn. of America, has not coached since he left the Seattle SuperSonics in 1977.

He said he was attracted to the post because the Kings offered a long-term contract that will give him the time needed to build a championship team, and because it is a West Coast team, just 90 miles from the San Francisco Bay Area, where he played high school and college ball, and where his father lives.

"I've been offered some jobs before, but they were always on the East Coast. I'd never live on the East Coast," said Russell, who has been living in Seattle.

Russell, a television commentator for the past decade, said he decided about two years ago that he wanted to return to coaching but only under the right circumstances.

He and Lukenbill said his Kings contract includes not only the promise of eventually moving up to club president, but also includes an option to become a part owner. The Kings did not disclose terms except it would be at "a predetermined price" when the Sacramento club eventually makes a public offer of its stock.

"I wanted a long-term contract because I know what it takes to build a solid franchise," Russell said. "I told Gregg (Lukenbill) if you wanted a team to make the playoffs, I'm not your guy, but if you want an NBA championship, I'm your guy."

Axelson said Russell's seven-year contract will start June 1. "In two, three or four years, to be dictated by the progress of the team, he will stop coaching and become general manager. Later, following my retirement, he will become president," the 59-year-old Axelson said.

Russell said although he hasn't coached in 10 years, "I haven't been away from the game. I've been to almost as many games (as television commentator) as if I'd been coaching."

Although Russell said he expects it to take several years to build the Kings--29-53 this past season--into champions, he predicted that "without too much of a change, we ought to be able to get close to .500."

He said he thinks the Kings have five players "that are really good," but that their greatest weakness is defense.

Russell said in addition to keeping Reynolds as an assistant, he will name another assistant coach soon.

Reynolds, whose total NBA experience before his stint as interim coach was 1 1/2 years as Johnson's assistant, won an enthusiastic following among Sacramento fans as he compiled a 15-21 record, compared to Johnson's 14-32 record in the first half of the season.

Reynolds said he is pleased that Russell was named head coach and that "it's a tremendous opportunity for me" to be his assistant.

"I really didn't want this job. I'm certainly not ready to be a winning coach in the NBA," Reynolds said.

Russell, an Olympic gold medal winner, an All-American who led the University of San Francisco to two NCAA titles and played for the Celtics from 1956-65, then served as player-coach from 1966 to 1969. He played on 11 world championship Celtic teams, including two as player-coach.

Russell was head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics from 1973-77, when he won 168 games and lost 175, and he twice led Seattle to the playoffs, in 1974-75 and 1975-76. His overall coaching record is 324-249.

Russell was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 1958, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1965, and he was elected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 1974.

He averaged 15.1 points a game over 13 NBA seasons.

The Kings, in their second year in Sacramento after leaving Kansas City, finished the 1986-87 season with the second-worst record in the Midwest Division. Their first season in Sacramento, they made the playoffs but were quickly eliminated.

Despite the grim win-loss record, the Kings' have had sellout crowds in the 10,333-seat Arco Arena for every home game. The Kings' home court is in a temporary arena. The team plans to construct a sports complex that will ultimately host the Kings and other professional sports teams.

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