Bill Russell Was a Totally Dimensional Black Athlete


Five years ago, at the NBA awards ceremony, Bill Russell took the stage with the legendary Giants. Behind him stood Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Alonzo Shokh, Shaquille O’Neill, David Robinson and Dikembe Mutambo. Russell stepped on the microphone, turned and pointed his index finger at all five, One after the other. He then placed his left hand next to his face to share a special message.

Basketball’s greatest champ told him, “I’ll kick your A–.”

The room caught fire. All those royal elders laughed, but they didn’t dare argue. Russell saved the grandest reaction for last, filling the air with his signature high-pitched cackle. It was the last time a huge national audience got to hear that nonsense.

Oh my god, we’re going to miss that handcuff.

One of the most important lives in sports and celebrity history came to an end on Sunday. Russell has died at the age of 88, leaving behind a vast legacy of greatness as a sportsman, coach, civil rights activist and humanitarian. While it’s fair to debate whether better individual basketball players have stepped onto the court, Russell has been instrumental in factoring in team success at all levels (high school, college, Olympics, and NBA), leadership, adaptability, mental strength, and social influence. The latter is an incomparable person. off the floor. He was a star who did the dirty work, a defensive know-how who led the Boston Celtics to 11 championships, whatever victory they needed. And he was a star who did important work, a disruptor who demanded the better of America and confronted racism without fear or fatigue.

Bill Russell, an 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and the first black head coach in a major American sports league, died on July 31. He was 88 years old. (Video: Reuters)

He was a fully dimensional Black athlete for more than half a century just before he became one. In the 1960s, his home in a Boston suburb was ransacked, splattered hatred on the walls, and feces left in his bed. But there was no one to scare Russell. On the court, he went face-to-face with Wilt Chamberlain, a formidable opponent who, at 7-foot-1 and 275 pounds, was four inches taller than Russell and 60 pounds heavier. Nevertheless, Russell’s Celtics dominated their post-season matchups against Chamberlain’s teams. Although Chamberlain was an unstoppable force, Russell bested him with savvy, sportsmanship and his advanced understanding of the nuances of team play. He was equally clever in real life.

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Feinstein: Bill Russell was the greatest winner of any sport ever

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement, “The Bill stood for something much bigger than the sport: the values ​​of equality, respect and inclusion that they inculcated in the DNA of our league.” “At the height of his athletic career, Bill vigorously advocated for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed on to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps. Through taunts, threats, and unimaginable adversity Bill rose above all else and lived up to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with respect.”

Silver liked to refer to Russell as “the Babe Ruth of basketball for how she transcended time.” Russell and Chamberlain were pioneers in turning the sport into a more vertical show, in which tall guys with a surprising leaping ability did unimaginable things in the air. Russell reserved most of his athleticism for practical purposes: rebounding and blocking shots. He combined his physical prowess with his mind, studying how wrong shots went off the rim and developing strategies for when and how to block shots.

There was artistry and calculation in everything Russell did. Sometimes, at the start of games, he would come out of nowhere and thoroughly negate shots into the crowd to intimidate opponents. Mostly, though, he was a master at self-control when blocking shots, preferring to tap the ball to himself or a teammate so the Celtics could gain possession. He knew that keeping the ball inward was more rewarding than the thrill of rolling it as far as possible. It really added to the fear factor when an offensive player had to consider that a shot in Russell’s vicinity could act as a turnover.

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Paying his respects on Sunday, Michael Jordan said of Russell, “He led the way and set an example for every black player who comes after him in the league, including me.” When Russell retired from the NBA in 1969, Jordan was 6 years old. Abdul-Jabbar was to enter the league the following season. It was 10 years after Magic Johnson and Larry Bird began their rivalry in the NCAA Championship Game. His rise with Red Orbatch and Boston’s all-star cast was long ago, and recency bias has diminished some appreciation of the enormity of his influence. But given all that the NBA – and sport in general – has become, Russell remains one of the most important athletic icons to ever walk the planet.

He was a defining sports figure during a defining time in American history, speaking during the same era in which Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Jim Brown, and Abdul-Jabbar refused to remain silent. Russell was 13 when Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947, and he used Robinson’s example as a blueprint for his career. When Robinson died, Russell was a pallbearer at his funeral. on 19th July, Russell wrote his last message on TwitterHappy 100th birthday to Robinson’s widow Rachel.

Bill Russell remembered as a ‘pioneer’ on and off the court

Eleven years ago, when President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom, he contemplated the big man’s legacy.

“Bill Russell is the man who has stood up for the rights and dignity of all men,” Obama said during the ceremony. “He went with the king; He was standing with Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve Black Celtics, it refused to play in the scheduled game. He tolerated humiliation and vandalism, but he focused on making the teammates he loved better players and making possible the success of so many who would follow. ,

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There is an old video in which Russell tells the story of playing golf with Jordan and arguing with him over the summer after the Chicago Bulls won their six titles.

“You know we’re going behind your record,” Jordan told Russell.

“Which one?” Russell hit back.

Russell continued: “You know, we won 11, but we won eight straight. I don’t think you’ll live long enough to get one of these.”

Jordan reminded Russell that the NBA had only eight teams for most of the center’s career and had expanded to just 12 by the end. Separate from the 30-team league, Jordan said. His Airness thought he had it. But Russell was just getting started. He made an argument about expansion and dilution.

“Think about it this way,” Russell recalled telling her. “When I was a beginner, there were 80 jobs in professional basketball, so a lot of good players didn’t make it. If there were 12 teams, you wouldn’t have won the championship. You did a great job building penetration [John] Paxson, and he hit the open shot, won the game. If there were 12 teams in the league, he would not have made that shot. He said, ‘Why not?’ Because he will be in the stands. And it’s not a knock on that, but it’s about the quality of the NBA.”

That was Bill Russell: smart, nimble, tenacious. When he fought for championship and equality as a sportsman, he was often regarded as ornate, even ornate. But when the society thought that he had groped her, he would say something strange and throw out that booming flurry.

People had to laugh, even if it was a joke. And it usually was. Russell was never beaten on the court or in any other walk of life. It was best to help her find happiness because she had a way of making it contagious.