“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
By Kenneth Miller, Publisher
The death of iconic basketball legend and civil rights inspiration Bill Russell was stunning, but not shocking in the sense that you will remember where you were and what you were doing, but it should have.
We live in world today that as soon as information is dispersed in its myriad of forms that it is difficult to process the significance and impact in such a warped time and space. We don’t fully digest the magnitude of the event.
Bill Russell was such a towering and amazing accomplished sports figure that we don’t have to guess if we will ever encounter another like him, we won’t…not ever.
Thus, we celebrate his monumental feats such as those eight consecutive championships (11 overall in 13 seasons) all with the Boston Celtics; five MVPs, 12 time All Star, the first Black coach in the NBA and first Black coach to win an NBA championship.
However, while we are mourning the passing of this jolly Black giant, who stood 6’10 and didn’t have nary to dribbling or passing skills of say Magic Johnson, the gravity defying leaping ability of Michael Jordan, the flare of the late Kobe Bryant or the sheer power of Shaquille O’Neal, poetic grace of Kareem Abdul Jabbar or the array of tools of say LeBron James.
Bill Russell was chiseled with the grind and desire to dominate and win at absolutely every level, from the University of San Francisco where he won back-to-back NCAA title in 1955-56, leading the Dons to a 71-8 record in three seasons which culminated in an undefeated campaign in ’56 when his team went 29-0. In three seasons with Bill Russell, San Francisco went 71-8, capped off by a 28-1 season in 1955 followed by an undefeated, 29-0 season in 1956.
After all of that Russell was just the just the second overall pick behind Duquesne 6’2 guard/forward Si Green of the Rochester Royals who went on to play for eight teams in 10 years, including among them was one alongside Russell in 1965 when he averaged a measly 3.2 points a game.
As dubious a distinction as Green would become as the top pick in the 56, Russell would vault into a stratosphere captured in a towering bronze statue by Ann Hirsch installed outside Boston’s City Hall.
Russell opined in his biography how insistent he was in his demand for racial equality and was often at odds with the dominant society’s perspective that constantly insisted he should be grateful for opportunities.
Racism defined Bill Russell as a person. While he was leading his college team to a title in ’55, 14 year old Emmett Louis Till was abducted, tortured, and lynched in Mississippi, one of the most heinous crimes ever committed against a Black person that is just as shocking today as it was 66 years ago.
Bill Russell was born in Monroe, Louisiana to Charles Russell and Katie King in 1934 where racism was pervasive, a dangerous confrontation with a white man led Russell’s father to move his family to the North. After a brief stop in Detroit, Michigan, Russell, his parents and his older brother Charlie, settled in Oakland, California’s Black urban community.
His father set up his own trucking company, and Russell and his brother entered Oakland’s public schools.
When he was twelve, tragedy struck when his mother passed away after a brief illness. His father gave up his company to be with his children while Russell retreated into the solace of books at the public library.
It was a book about the life of Henri Christophe, a slave who led an insurrection and became emperor of Haiti that made a lasting impression that remained with him throughout his life.
Barack Obama, the first and only Black President presented the Hall of Fame member Russell and human rights advocate with the 2010 Medal of Freedom.
A pioneer Bill Russell inspired Inglewood’s Paul Pierce, who spent the majority of his NBA career with the Boston Celtics and after winning an NBA title with the Celtics followed him into the prestigious Hall of Fame
“Thanku for being a trailblazer, pioneer Thanku for setting the bar, for ur kind words of wisdom, Thanku for that great laugh u had. I can go on all day about what u meant to me. Today is a sad day for the NBA family u will be forever missed #6”- Pierce tweeted.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was profound in expressing his condolences.
“Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports,” Silver said. “The countless accolades that he earned for his storied career with the Boson Celtics—including a record 11 championships and five MVP awards—only begin to tell the story of Bill’s immense impact on our league and broader society.”
Eight-eight years of life with a world of accomplishments sandwiched between and it is from his broad and steeled shoulders that all of greatness stands.
Bow now to the G I A N T…