The man who was drafted before Bill Russell has a six-line Wikipedia page.
He averaged 9.2 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. He didn’t top 40% from the field until his eighth NBA season. He produced fewer win shares in his career than Paul Millsap did this season.
The man who was drafted before Bill Russell was Sihugo Green, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why that happened.
The 1956 Rochester Royals did indeed have a Hall of Fame big man in Maurice Stokes, but at 6’7” he easily could’ve slid down to power forward. They also had a Hall of Fame wing, Jack Twyman, who minimized the need for a superstar guard.
It’s not as though Green was a better raw prospect either. He was a two-time All American at Duquesne, but Russell led a San Francisco team that won 55 straight games and two National Championships. He won National Player of the Year over Green in both 1955 and 1956. Russell was the greatest college basketball player in history by the time he joined the NBA. There was no argument that Green was better.
Green didn’t just cost the Royals Russell. They had the No. 1 pick in 1957 as well. With Green seemingly entrenched, they traded the pick to Minneapolis. That pick was Hot Rod Hundley, a two-time All Star. Of course, there was a far more notable guard sitting on the board as well. With the No. 8 pick, the Boston Celtics grabbed Hall of Famer Sam Jones. Had the Royals taken Russell in 1956, they almost certainly would’ve ended up with either Jones or Hundley in 1957. That would’ve given them four stars at four positions. And then there’s the point guard that brings it all together.
The Royals moved to Cincinnati in 1957. In 1960, that allowed them to use a territorial draft pick on yet another Hall of Famer, one famous for playing for underwhelming teams. But imagine what Oscar Robertson could’ve done with Russell, Stokes, Twyman and Jones? Imagine what the Cincinnati Royals could’ve been.
Yet you’ll never see Sihugo Green on any lists of the biggest busts in NBA Draft history. Nobody calls him the Sam Bowie of the 50’s, the first Darko or the miracle that created the Boston Celtics. Sihugo Green has been lost to time, an afterthought who came around too early to garner any real hatred and died before the internet had a chance to kill to him. He is the patient zero of draft bustitis, and before you read this you didn’t even know his name. I can’t blame you, before I stumbled onto this and started connecting the dots, I didn’t even know his name.
It goes to show how little digging basketball fans have done on the pre-merger NBA. Here we have a defining moment in league history, a fulcrum point that creates the Celtics dynasty and destroys the Royals, and it’s never discussed simply because of the era. But at the very least, it’s a clear path for Oscar Robertson to end up on Bill Russell’s team, and it didn’t happen because the Royals felt they needed a guard and passed on Russell for Sihugo Green.