In this fighting culture, where controversy and scale pass for knowledge and understanding, the death of the great Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics comes at a time when even the pros – or, especially The Professionals – They are compensated for their ability to simulate Fan Supporters. Over the past several weeks, former NBA bowler and ESPN analyst JJ Riddick said Bob Cousy, in his day, was guarded by “plumbers and firefighters.” Golden State strongman Draymond Green says he doesn’t see how Michael Jordan could have competed with the Chicago Bulls in 1998 His 2017 Warriors. Bob Cousy, 93, and Jerry West, 84, protected their time by responding, and Cousy with a joke about how, if true, the NBA must have had the best plumbers and firefighters around, reminds West Riddick lamented that he was just a one-dimensional player who was never a star.
Riddick’s dip on the old ones. The old ones flooded again. This is how we communicate.
The victim of this particular brand of noise is professional disrespect, disregard for the professions of previous generations, their hardships and circumstances in favor of clapbacks. It’s not just an attention-getting performance but a deliberate conviction. With Russell’s death, a cease-fire will come, and rhetoric will be replaced by temporary reverence, quiet admiration for his dignity and towering accomplishments and the bitter passing of time. Cousy is the only player left from the Celtics’ first championship team, in 1957. Bill Sharman is gone. So does Tommy Heinson, too, and only a few of them survive—Don Chaney, Don Nelson, and Emmett Bryant, for example—from his last in 1969.
Boston’s black community will mourn their hero: a player and community grateful to each other in hostile territory. Russell was the city’s black entry point to embrace the Celtics, a legacy obscured by the racism of school desegregation in the 1970s and Larry Bird’s polarizing era in the 1980s in which Celts symbolized whiteness. Drafted by Russell with the Seattle Supersonics in 1977, Dennis Johnson died in 2007. Joe Joe White in 2018. Kay C. Jones died in 2020. Sam Jones died in 2021.
Reverence, understanding, and respect should have a permanent place in our discourse, but it will only take hours before professionals and amateurs alike return to making the lists — and fighting about it. Discussions will resume and Russell will be blacked out because he averaged only 15.1 points during his career per game and only shot 44% from the ground, and there were so many missed shots in that time that he averaged 22.5 rebounds. Even Russell’s greatest on-court achievement of winning 11 NBA titles during his 13-year career is constantly under threat from criticism that there were only eight teams in the NBA when Russell was winning all those championships, so they were in a way less legitimate than truly Today’s tournaments because postseason wasn’t as long as it is today.
What makes these attempts at shorthand unsuccessful is Russell himself, because as the noise subsides and he begins to listen, what neutralizes numbers and scales is the futility of Bill Russell’s assessment without confronting the central truth of his life: he was born black. A man in the United States in 1934. It’s a simple, basic property owned by millions of people, thousands of professionals, and dozens of legends – but Russell was still different for his unwillingness to let his sports fortune separate from his. life as a man. America wanted him to indulge his winning sense of their city, team, and moment. They wanted to celebrate his accomplishments they Where he refuses to appreciate for him. They are not allowed.
He was part of the legacy of amazing athletes in Oakland, California, only after racism pressured his parents to leave his hometown of Monroe, Louisiana, far from their knowledge and opportunity. He and baseball Hall of Fame Frank Robinson were classmates at McLemonds High School in West Oakland, the “School of Champions” – Kurt Flood and Vada Benson, the All-Stars baseball team, but only because West Oakland was part of the city in the 1940s where white city leaders forced The overwhelming majority of blacks to live.
When Russell arrived in Boston, widely considered the most racist city in America, he did so only because neither the St. Louis Hawks property nor the white fan base wanted him to be the face of a black star – even the great Bill Russell, who had just won a gold for Team USA at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. So the Hawks replaced Russell, who brought glory to his country, to Boston for two white players, Ed McCauley and Cliff Hagan.
Russell dominated the NBA, creating a new team in the NBA — and a new team for the Boston Celtics. The Celtics did not reach the NBA Finals before Russell. The team belonged to coach, Reed Auerbach, and his superstar Cosey, who enjoyed being the captain, the champ from the local college (Holy Cross) but couldn’t accept – as most great players could not – that he was there. Eclipse by a better fellow. Cousy won six titles with Russell, but nothing without him. Auerbach won nine titles as a coach, but nothing as a coach without him.
The city responded to the greatness of the Celtics by failing to attract an audience, insulting Russell and revealing whenever possible the racial double standards of containing white stars while merely appreciating their black stars. Russell won two college championships at the University of San Francisco, uneasy with the racial system in America. He won a gold medal for a country whose black children several months later asked for National Guard protection to go to school in Little Rock, Arkansas. Later that season, in 1957, Russell won the NBA title for a city where racial disparities were so pronounced that by 1974 Boston had been like Little Rock for 16 years—and Boston, at least in terms of reputation, never really recovered. Every stage in his career was defined by American racism, and the reaction to it for years was that Russell was so bitter, he couldn’t get over the same indignities that millions of black people suffered every day. He was defined years ago, not by what his homeland did to him, but why he didn’t accept it better.
Sports is filled with empty cliched words that brighten the daily lives of talented athletes. iron sharpens iron, They say. Russell’s reaction to his stature was to triumph at a phenomenal rate. He refused to participate in pomp while transforming insults into dominance, and therefore, there can be no superlatives, no metrics, no numbers, no comparisons between generations or era that can explain the life he lived, especially those so fiercely and independently expressed as Bill. Russell. There’s no metric to put a value on winning, and moving to 21-0 in the winner’s games takes it all over his last two years at college, the Olympics, and the National Basketball Association, when your Massachusetts home gets burgled and smeared with feces — like Russell was once infamous one. With all his victories, perhaps his greatest triumph was to make this separation of man and sporting action impossible, which also made it impossible to see without seeing America. Russell won eight consecutive titles, beating the Lakers—always beating them, never losing to them in Finals—but carrying Birmingham, Selma and MLK with him. That was his deal, and it was consistent – you can’t celebrate the Celtics’ 76th victory without acknowledging the unequal treatment of him and his people. Russell took care that one could not be evaluated without the other – he did not exist merely to entertain the audience, and thus his evaluation could not take place with good awareness without the audience having to look at themselves. For decades, the dominant narrative of Russell was that he was caught up in the bitterness of his time, but that wasn’t entirely true. He was released due to his refusal to play along. He did not attend the Celtics final championship parade in 1969 even though he was the coach, nor his Hall of Fame induction. He was far from the city for which he was famous – and yet he was constantly present.
When he wanted to be seen, he had–and for the last fifteen years of his life he stood like a mighty ghost, a signature laugh equal and far away. The NBA renamed the Finals Player of the Year trophy after him. The 2008 Celtics surrounded him like little kids. It’s been the living link to the game’s birth—and the conscience of action, from Jackie Robinson to Colin Kaepernick, for more than half a century. When he didn’t want to be seen, he wasn’t. There is now, since 2013, a statue of Bill Russell, just as there is Auerbach and a sparrow (at least his shoe), Williams and Orr.
The coming days would be filled with Russell’s greetings and reductive discussions because in the end he was irreducible. Eleven championships. Eight consecutive titles. Standing firmly on his principles, regardless of the traditionally high cost, and deciding there is no cost to extract himself from the expectation of performance without respect. It was not Bill Russell who fell into the trap, but his former surroundings, his city, and his country who were forced to reckon with their behavior and attitudes, to answer the question of why their greatest hero often did not want to deal with them. Even Cozy, decades later, more than half a century later too late, wanted to reconcile his early treatment of Russell, the era, and the Boston days. Russell wrote a letter. Russell never responded. Russell was long past that. That was yesterday. Cosey may still be chasing after everything he didn’t say or do, but Bill Russell was already free.