He changed the NBA.
He changed society.
He should never be forgotten.
Bill Russell has passed away, the legendary Boston Celtics center.
He was to the modern NBA what Jackie Robinson was to baseball, and Jim Brown to the NFL.
A game-changer, a society influencer.
He came from Louisiana, went to the catholic University of San Francisco.
He was a 1st round draft pick of the St-Louis Hawks, traded to Boston, and the rest is the history he created.
Think Celtics glory and everyone points to their leader Red Auerbach. Think again, this time Celtics glory on the floor, and it was Bill Russell.
He won 11-rings with Boston. He was an 12-time All Star. A 5-time MVP.
He joined the likes of Bob Cousy, KC Jones, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders, John Havlicek, Don Nelson, Jim Lostacuff, Tommy Heinsohn in the first great era of basketball in Boston. You played that team, it was a war at the Boston Gardens.
When he was done, he became the first black coach of any sports team in the countty, NFL-NBA-MLB-NHL.
Modern day fans think only of Larry Bird-Kevin McHale-Robert Parish-Dennis Johnson and their greatness.
Red Auerbach was famous for lighting up cigars sitting on the bench when Boston was about to clinch another title. Bill Russell lit the match with his influence on the team.
But it was Bill Russell’s social intervention that was just as important in the NBA and society.
He broke color barriers in the the Deep South. He did the same in opening doors for the next wave of great minorities, led by Walt Frazier-Willis Reed, Dave Bing and so many others into the 60’s. His influence in the coaching ranks was staggering.
His work to raise money for the United Negro College Fund was enormous. His thoughtful comments to people in the White House about social injustice carried as big a clout as swatting shots around the basket.
He became the face of the NBA and the conscience of what pro athletes should be about.
He coached in Boston, Seattle and Sacramento after retiring and wound up as a Hall of Famer as a coach in addition to being a star player.
His matchups with Wilt Chamberlain, who broke in with the Philadelphia Warriors were legendary, the two iconic big men who made the NBA something special on TV.
The man with the gray goatee was honrored too with the Medal of Freedom by then President Obama, a medal he valued as much as any of his Celtics championship rings.
Jumped shots, blocked shots, rebounds, running the floor, and making astute social statements were all part of his game. He was a complete player and person.
Who he was, whom he influenced, how he did it, are lessons we should all pay attention too. It was 88-years of excellence, player and person.
RIP-Bill Russell…a big man, in more ways than one.