NBA great Bill Russell, who played for the Boston Celtics for 13 years, according to the Boston Herald, died “Sunday at the age of 88… ‘peacefully’ with his wife Jeannine at his side….” The Herald’s Mark Murphy wrote, “For all of the GOAT/Rushmore talk about Tom Brady, Bobby Orr and David Ortiz, none won on Russell’s level.”
Actually, as reported by Tim Reynolds at the AP, no one in the history of U.S. professional team sports has ever accomplished what Russell did during his playing career. And even the few achievements listed here tell only a part of Russell’s nearly nine decades on Earth.
During his 13-year NBA career, he won 11 championships (he would win two more as the Celtic’s coach), was a five-time MVP, and was a 12-time All-Star. Before the NBA, in 1955 and 1956, he won two NCAA national championships with the University of San Francisco and an Olympic Gold Medal, also in 1956, in Melbourne, Australia.
But Russell wasn’t only active on the basketball court. After all, his career spanned the heart of the civil rights movement during the 1960s. And he played in Boston, which experienced ugly racial tensions at that time.
He joined that civil rights movement and took part with Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and other athletes to support Muhammad Ali after officials stripped him of his heavyweight title because of his anti-Vietnam War stance.
The AP reported, “He stood side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, the height of the civil rights movement. He was in the audience when King delivered the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech in Washington in 1963. He marched in Mississippi after the slaying of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.”
Russell was the NBA’s first black head coach and the first to win an NBA championship.
With his legacy laser-etched in stone, the AP also reported, seeing no point in autographs, when out for dinner, if someone asked for Russell’s signature, he would usually “ask the person to join him… to have a conversation about life.”
Reportedly, they almost always said, “No.”
Imagine the opportunity those people squandered and the sublime experience those few who said yes enjoyed.
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