REMEMBERING THE GREAT BILL RUSSELL
Boston has been home to some of the greatest athletes in history. As a Boston video production professional, I've been lucky to meet and film many of the greats over the years. Papi, Pierce, Cousy, Orr, Bird, Neely, Flutie, Gronk and Hagler are just a few of the Boston sports legends I've met. None of them can compare to Bill Russell. He was the original Boston GOAT. Today, we honor his legacy and remember everything that he accomplished.
Few athletes have had the career of Bill Russell. As a member of the Boston Celtics, Russell led the team to 11 championships in 13 seasons, two as a player while serving as the first black NBA coach! He was also a five-time MVP and 12-time All-Star. In college, he led the University of San Francisco to two consecutive National Championships. His dominance on the court is matched only by his passion for civil rights off it. Russell was a vocal advocate for racial equality throughout his life, and he continued to use his voice to change the world for the better. This makes him one of the most important figures in sports history, and an inspiration to all who know his story. I was lucky enough to meet him when he was a guest speaker at a sales meeting for Reebok. Years earlier, he had co-starred in a Reebok commercial along with a young rookie named Shaquille O'Neal.
Many years after the commercial, he was chosen as the featured guest at Reebok's national sales meeting in Providence. I distinctly remember his laugh. He had an infectious laugh that could fill a room, but he also had great words of wisdom for the audience on how to make an impact in the game of life. He was generous with his time and his knowledge.
He was the ultimate winner on the court. Name an athlete in any of the major American sports, and nobody even comes close to matching the amount of winning Bill Russell did. He is the only pro athlete who has more rings than fingers. Brady has 7, Jordan has 6. But Eleven? Plus 2 college titles and a gold medal? In a world where a three peat is considered a "dynasty", It's hard to fathom winning 8 consecutive championships. Yet there are some who would discount his accomplishments because of the competition he faced, " the plumbers and firemen" argument. Don't buy it. Bill Russell was an absolutely amazing athlete, with an astonishing vertical leap, and elite track and field championship level speed. He dominated in his era, and he'd dominate today. He was the ultimate teammate because to him, winning was the only thing that mattered.
Still, some of my favorite Russell stories are ones from off the court. One happened in Marion, Indiana. The Celtics were playing an exhibition game in the early 60's and the mayor rolled out the red carpet before the game and gave the team the keys to the city. After the game, the team went out to eat at a local diner, and the black players on the team, including Sam Jones, K.C. Jones and Russell were refused service. Although there were only 10 or so diners in a place that sat 40, the hostess immediately informed the team that "all the tables were reserved." Later that night, the entire team, led by Russell, found out where the mayor lived, knocked on his door at 2 am, and returned their "keys to the city." Russell reportedly told the mayor he could have them because in Marion, "they were useless because they didn't open anything." This was the essence of Russell. He earned his respect on the court, and demanded it everywhere else. He was a teacher, a leader, a role model, and a champion, on the court and in life. Rest in Peace, Number 6. THANK YOU.