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When people talk about basketball greats, they often mention names such as Michael Jordan, LBJ, Kobe, Abdul-Jabbar, Magic, Bird, or even the Shaq.
But not too many people think about Bill Russell…
And I think it’s a bit unfair to the Boston Celtics legend.
It’s true that good defending skills often go unnoticed, but Bill Russell’s underrated status is on a whole different level.
The man once collected 51 rebounds in a game and 49 rebounds two times, only beaten by Wilt Chamberlain. On top of that, he regularly racked up over 1000 rebounds per season, amounting to 21,620 rebounds by the time he ended his career.
But now it’s time to brush the dust off another basketballing legend by taking a look at a Bill Russell rookie card – and a bunch of other top cards for Russell.
Bill Russell Rookie Card
There is only one true Bill Russell rookie card, and since it’s one of the most popular Russell cards, let’s focus on this one first.
1957 Topps Bill Russell RC #77
Bill Russell was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1956, which is one of the best drafts in the franchise’s history.
The Celtics managed to obtain the likes of Russell, KC Jones, and Heinsohn in just one draft year, although this did come at an expense; the Boston team lost two great players in Ed Macauley and Cliff Hagan.
But the Celtics certainly didn’t regret this decision. All the players they drafted became integral to the Celtic’s most triumphant period in their history.
From 1957 to 1969, the Celtics were the best team by a country mile, winning 11 out of 13 possible championships. And Bill Russell was central to everything the Celtics did.
He was drafted in 1956 but was only able to join the team by the end of the year because of his involvement in the Olympics. But his impact on the team was instant.
At a time when it was fashionable for centers to rack up points and be great offensively, Bill Russell brought a shift to defensive centers becoming popular. He became famous for his rebounds and blocks, which some pundits called “Wilsonburgers”.
The Celtics became almost unbeatable with Russell at the center spot and the famous Red Auerbach at the helm. Russell won 5 MVP awards, was included 12 times in the All-Star team and collected over 20,000 rebounds throughout his years with the Celtics.
About the Card
So now that you know a bit of the history of Bill Russell and the famous Boston Celtics team, let’s focus on the 1957 Topps rookie card.
First of all, you should note that the card comes from the 1957-58 season. The reason for that is that Russell wasn’t initially involved with the Celtics in the previous season because of his involvement in the 1956 Olympics.
It’s the only official rookie card of Russell, although you’ll also find some cards from an earlier part of his career.
This Topps card is also one of the more expensive ones you will see out there. In better conditions, this card will collect five-figure amounts and potentially six-figure amounts, guaranteed.
The card features an action shot of Bill Russell in his Boston jersey. The background is a bit odd because it is darkened, but that’s probably because of the technology at the time.
On the back of the card, you’ll find your typical description of the player including some of his stats and attributes. Notice how already in the 1956/57 season, Russell was setting rebounding records even though it was his first season in the NBA. The guy was pure class.
Availability and Conditioning
As is the case with the majority of older cards from the 1950s, there’s not really an abundance of Bill Russell rookie cards out there.
Card condition will be the biggest issue with this one. Note: this is taken from the PSA website at the time of writing, and the numbers might be a little different now – you can see the updated pop report here.
The better the card is preserved, the more it is going to cost. But you can find plenty of mediocre cards that go for thousands, maybe four-figure sums.
The population of this card is most abundant when it comes to PSA 4 to PSA 6 rated cards. Anything above this is a rarity, and even a PSA 6 is going to command a four-figure sum.
There are currently no PSA 10 cards of this type, but there are only 3 PSA 9s around. There are plenty more PSA 8s (47), though. And a PSA 8 card like this can easily cost a five-figure sum.
At the end of it all, this card is going to cost you thousands of dollars no matter how you look at it. If you don’t have that sort of budget, you’re going to have to either lower your standards and look for lower grades or just forget about it.
Other Bill Russell Cards
The main rookie card for Bill Russell is the 1957 Topps card, but there are plenty of other options that you can choose from.
These are some other Bill Russell rookie cards that you can consider.
1955 All-American Sports Club #61
The 1957 Topps rookie card is not the earliest Russell card out there. There is one card that came out much earlier, and that is the 1955 All-American Sports Club #61 card.
Now, this card comes from Russell’s college days with the San Francisco Dons.
This card set is interesting because it freely mixed sportsmen across different sports, including baseball, golf, basketball, and others. Bill Russell finds himself in good company in this set with the likes of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and many other sporting legends.
Altogether, the set contained 500 different sportsmen. These cards were hand-cut and printed on a glossy surface. They were a bit basic perhaps, but that’s what you got with 1950s cards.
1961 Fleer Bill Russell RC #38
Next up, we have the 1961 Fleer Bill Russell card, which is the next best thing when it comes to Russell cards.
This card is special because it comes from a huge and important set from card history. This 1961 Fleer set contained cards for some of the best-ever basketball players, including Russell, of course, as well as Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, and Jerry West.
Another reason why this card is special in its own right is that for many years before and after, there weren’t any major basketball card releases. If you’re looking for vintage Russell cards, this one could be great for you.
These cards can also be quite expensive, especially in higher grades. But it is not nearly as valuable as the 1957 Topps rookie card, so you can consider this to be a budget alternative to that card.
1961 Fleer Bill Russell IA #62
There’s one more Fleer card that comes from 1961, and it’s the Bill Russell “In action” card.
Now, this card set is slightly different from the base Fleer set. It contained action images of players and for this reason, the cards were significantly different.
Even though it’s not as valuable as the #38 card, this in-action card is still immensely popular with vintage card collectors and you should definitely consider it if you’ve got the money for it.
1963 Boston Celtics Picture Pack Bill Russell
This card set from 1963 featured 12 different players from the Championship-winning roster, including their coach, Red Auerbach.
It is not a very common card to find out there. You might struggle to find a listing for this one, so the values can be quite high.
One of the reasons why this card is so coveted is because of just how successful Russell was with this Boston Celtics team. It was at this point that Russell and the rest of the Celtics were probably at the best stages of their careers.
Even though the card looks a bit basic, it can still rack up good prices, especially for the higher grades. It’s quite rare to find this card, which is yet another reason why you might have to dig deep to get this one.
1968 Topps Test Bill Russell #4
After a long hiatus when it comes to basketball cards, Topps returned with a bang in 1968, first with the test set and then with the bigger set in 1969.
This test set was released in 1968 with only 22 cards in the set – 17 of them were Hall-of-Famers.
It is said that this set was released to see whether there is still interest for basketball cards before Topps released a full set a year later.
Despite the fairly basic design and the black-and-white design of the card, it remains to be one of the most popular Bill Russell cards out there. The values for this card can easily go into thousands and potentially into four figures for higher grades.