When you are a kid you have heroes. Your hero is selected by doing something in areas you are interested in. For me that hero was Bill Russell. I was mystified that his team always seemed to win. As I learned more about him I learned his teams won championships in college, the Olympics and the NBA.
Russell taught me that winning was most important. While many athletes played for numbers, Russell wanted to win. His team never had the top scorers but all did their jobs well. It seemed they all liked each other and enjoyed playing together. Russell was the man that made it all happen.
I remember when Red Auerbach made Russell the coach. He was the first black coach in the NBA. This was after Boston had won eight straight and nine out of ten titles. By that time it appeared Russell was slipping. Boston won sixty games in his first year but were demolished by the Philadelphia 76ers and Wilt Chamberlain, in the playoffs. I thought the Celtic rein was over.
The next year Boston finished second to Philadelphia in the regular season. They met again in the playoffs and Philadelphia took a commanding three to one lead. Boston became the first team to come back from that deficit. They won the next three games, two of them in Philadelphia.
Russell’s last year was even more remarkable. After finishing in fourth place during the regular season they won the Eastern Conference. They next faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. The Lakers had Jerry West and that guy again, Wilt. The Celtics fell behind in that series three to two. Boston won at home then beat the Lakers in LA. For those that never saw it go to YouTube and watch the fourth quarter of that game and Russell’s interview after the game where he appears to cry.
That summer he retired.
A Great Man!
As I got older I learned more about Russell. I learned he led a boycott before preseason game in the south. Black players on the Celtics weren’t served at a restaurant before that game. Think about the courage that took in the early sixties in the South.
Russell also was a prominent black spokesman against racist treatment. He was part of the famed Cleveland Summit. He, Jimmy Brown and Kareem Abdul Jabbar along with other prominent black celebrities spoke to Muhammed Ali about induction to the service. As I learned these things I knew I liked a great man. Russell was a person who fought for what he believed in.
Mr. Russell, thanks for all you taught the many people including me. You lived your life in an exemplary manner. Not only were you a great athlete but a better person.
RIP Mr. Russell.
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