I’m watching on NBA TV an amazing profile on Bill Russell, Mr. Russell’s House, by Bill Simmons. Its a fascinating and mesmerizing one-on-one interview with the legendary Boston Celtics center and NBA Hall of Famer, Bill Russell.
I always knew Bill Russell was great – one of the greatest to ever play basketball – he revolutionized the game with his rebounding, shot blocking and play-making ability. Highly intelligent, he could see a step ahead of everyone during the game.
Mr. Russell’s House showed me so much about Russell I didn’t know. I’ve read through the years various descriptions of him – brooding, aloof, misunderstood, etc. All of those were accurate to a degree but not entirely. Remember, Russell played during the Sixties – and was on the forefront of the societal changes the U.S. was going through – right up there with Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown.
Simmons brought up some fascinating insights about Russell’s life and career. One of the insights – more of a reminder, really – is that Boston never really appreciated Russell. Really, through the 60’s, Boston didn’t appreciate the Celtics, period. Not the way a dynasty (ELEVEN championships) should have been appreciated, and not like they are thought of today. In fact, a standard sentiment was that they had too many black players (Red Auerbach was the first NBA coach to start five black players). Through the decade, Russell and the Celtics were an example of what most of America didn’t see and had never seen before: whites and blacks working together every day, successfully.
Among the other insights, Russell:
Marched with Martin Luther King
Faced Wilt Chamberlain 142 times.
Was not only the games greatest rebounder but was also the greatest shot blocker. He went straight up to block the shot – he viewed shot blocking as an offensive maneuver – pretty revolutionary, when you think about it.
Awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2011 by President Obama
Was the first black head coach of any professional sport when he took over the Celtics as the player-coach, following the legendary Auerbach in 1969. Russell was not only the starting center, he didn’t have an assistant coach. And won two NBA Championships.
Russell won 11 NBA titles in 13 years.
The night Chamberlain set an NBA record 55 rebounds in one game was against Russell
Russell was one of Jackie Robinson’s pall bearers.
Russell retired after game 7 of the 1968 NBA finals – and with one exception – playing his son once during the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany – never played basketball again. Not even a simple pick-up game.
Bill Russell was and is an amazing man, an inspiration on and off the court.