Bill Russell Rumors

Bill Russell: In December of 1956, already two months into the season because I was competing in the Olympics, I began my career as a Boston Celtic. The team had had a Black player before me, Chuck Cooper, but when I arrived, I was the only Black person on a team of white guys. The Boston Celtics proved to be an organization of good people––from Walter Brown to Red Auerbach, to most of my teammates. I cannot say the same about the fans or the city. During games people yelled hateful, indecent things: “Go back to Africa,” “Baboon,” “Coon,” “Nigger.” I used their unkindness as energy to fuel me, to work myself into a rage, a rage I used to win.
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Bill Russell: The Celtics also ran a poll asking fans how they could increase attendance. More than 50 percent of the fans polled answered, “Have fewer Black guys on the team.” I refused to let the “fans’” bigotry, evidence of their lack of character, harm me. As far as I was concerned, I played for the Boston Celtics, the institution, and the Boston Celtics, my teammates. I did not play for the city or for the fans.
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Bill Russell: In the 1960s, I tried to move to Wilmington, MA, but nobody would sell me a house. So, I moved my family to Reading, a predominantly white town 16 miles north of Boston. Bigots broke into the house, spray-painted “Nigga” on the walls, shit in our bed. Police cars followed me often. I looked into buying a different house in a different neighborhood, but people in that neighborhood started a petition to persuade the seller not to sell to me. Around this same time Medgar Evars was murdered by the KKK. His brother, Charlie, asked me if I would do a series of integrated basketball clinics for children, which I did. I marched in Washington, supported Ali. After that, the death threats started coming. I said then that I wasn’t scared of the kind of men who come in the dark of night. The fact is, I’ve never found fear to be useful.
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How impressed have you been with the way players on the team and around the league have used their voices to get involved with some of these causes? Alvin Gentry: I think there was a time when there were dire consequences for speaking out like that. I just go back to the Bill Russells and Muhammad Alis, and we had Tommie Smith come and speak to the team (during the season). He sacrificed basically his whole career because he held up a glove that represented injustice in the Olympics. This is a time when everyone needs to come together. We talked about having tough conversations. This is a time to have tough conversations and just be real with each other.
An online petition 7-year-old Brady Timinski of New Jersey initiated in support of the Black Lives Matter social justice movement caught the attention of NBA legend and civil rights activist Bill Russell. After watching a documentary that detailed how poorly Russell and other Black players were treated during the 1960s, Timinski was inspired to start an online petition asking others to help stop racism.
For his efforts, especially with young people dealing with mental health and wellness, Love will receive the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at Sunday’s 28th ESPY Awards show (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). The award, named after the tennis great, is given each year to a person whose contributions transcend sports. “I’m incredibly humbled by it,” Love said. “It’s really a profound honor if you look back at that group of men and women who I admire. Billie Jean King, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, to name a few. It’s very, very humbling to see my name next to those.”
Storyline: Mental Health
Bill Russell: There’s the kind of strange that means peculiar, perverse, uncomfortable and ill at ease. Now that’s the kind of strange I’ve known my whole life. It’s the kind of strange Billie Holiday sang about when she sang, “Southern trees bear a strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood on the root,” referring, of course, to the then common practice of the lynching of Black people. It’s the kind of strange that has dogged America from the beginning. The kind of strange that justified indigenous genocide in the name of “civility.” It’s the kind of strange that built a country out of the labor of that “peculiar” institution known as slavery. It’s the kind of strange that justified Jim Crow, mass incarceration, police brutality, and the inequities that persist in every facet of the Black American experience.
Bill Russell: I’ve been waiting my whole life for America to live up to that promise and the fact that it hasn’t, that in America the systemic and pervasive killing of Black and brown people has never been strange in the “out of the ordinary” sense of the word, but only in the “uncomfortable and ill at ease” sense of the word, adds up to nothing less than, in the words of that Billie Holiday song again, a strange and bitter crop of injustices, with bulging eyes and the twisted mouth, for the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, for the sun to rot, for the tree to drop.
Bill Russell: Yet, I am heartened by the waves of Black Lives Matter protesters risking their lives to march among our streets. I am heartened by the Minneapolis City Council’s pledge to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department in response to their protests. And I sincerely hope that these kinds of strange days are forever behind us, and that real, lasting change will finally be realized. Our lives depend on it.
Wayne Embry remembers the shock and sorrow that swept through the Boston Celtics when Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated hours before Game 1 of the 1968 Eastern Division finals. That April 5 game in Philadelphia, a day after King’s death, almost didn’t happen. “Our immediate reaction was we will not play the game,” said Embry, who spent the day of the game wrestling with his grief in the hotel room he shared with Don Nelson. “Players were just shaken, all the emotions you can probably think of. We just thought ‘We will not play the game.'” Eight of the game’s 10 starters were Black, including Bill Russell, one of the most vocal athletes during the civil rights movement.

Abdul-Jabbar was asked “a lot of great questions” about how he dealt with racial issues while playing basketball during the 1960s and ‘70s, when there was civil unrest around the country. James told Abdul-Jabbar how cool it was to see the picture of a young Abdul-Jabbar (then Lew Alcindor), Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell and other prominent athletes gathered in 1967 in Cleveland with other civil rights activists. The group had come together to support Ali’s position in his refusal to be drafted.
Hehir told Insider on Monday that the interview with Bryant was one of the shorter ones he conducted for the docuseries. He only had around 25 minutes with Bryant when they tracked him down in July 2019. And at the time of the interview, Bryant was preoccupied as he was putting the final touches on a speech he was giving at the ESPY Awards to Bill Russell as that year’s recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. “I had to work hard, which was unusual in this process because normally people are ready to sit down and heap praise on Michael,” Hehir said.
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Storyline: Michael Jordan Documentary
Frazier also cited rule changes designed to limit Chamberlain, who famously dumped 100 points on the Knicks. “There were only two players they ever changed the rules for in pro basketball – George Mikan, and Wilt Chamberlain — widening the lane for them,’’ Frazier said. “The two guys they had to neutralize by changing some aspect of the game. If not for Chamberlain, nobody would’ve heard of any of us. I don’t know if there would’ve been an NBA. If not for Wilt and Bill Russell. I don’t know if the NBA would’ve made it. “I would find it hard to say Mike. Mike is right there with those guys, but if I had to pick, it would be Chamberlain.’’
Asked if he now considers Jordan the greatest of all time, Frazier stopped short. “I always ask what’s the criteria when you say the greatest ever,’’ Frazier said. “If it’s Superman, it’s Wilt Chamberlain. I have (Kareem) Abdul-Jabbar as a career-leading scorer. Versatility is Oscar Robertson. Winning is Bill Russell. Those are the four guys. Actually I’d say Wilt Chamberlain because when we played in the 70s and flied commercial, you go through the airport and people would say either ‘Are you a Globetrotter or Wilt Chamberlain?’ That’s all the people knew.’’
Storyline: GOAT Debate

It could take 100 forms. Imagine how incredible it would be to see courageous current NBA stars talk earnestly into the camera about the importance of Dr. Li, the freedom of speech, love, compassion, and saving lives. Can an animated NBA player demonstrate proper handwashing technique? Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr have talked openly about the value of freedom of speech; will the NBA dare to feature and promote that? Imagine if Daryl Morey weren’t the lone NBA figure to voice support of everyday American values overseas. Imagine what the finest ad agencies could do with Adam Silver’s treasure trove of basketball footage. Everyone from Bill Russell to Kobe Bryant is in there kicking ass and enjoying real freedom of speech.
On March 13, 1972, the Celtics had a private ceremony to retire Russell’s No. 6 jersey at Boston Garden. The jersey was raised to the rafters in front of players and friends about an hour before the doors opened for a game against the New York Knicks. When asked why the ceremony wasn’t open to the public, Russell told reporters: “You know I don’t go for that stuff.” The real reason was that Russell believed he never got the respect and adulation he deserved for leading the Celtics to 11 titles because he was black. “[Russell] said he thought that Boston was the most racist place he had been in,” Sanders said.
Erving knows Irving — if not well, certainly enough to have taken on a role as a mentor or extended fatherly figure. “I’ve seen him from the beginning,” Erving said. “A couple occasions I’ve been in the same room, chatted a little bit. But like Kobe Bryant situation, he’s another generation, or in some cases multiple generations removed from me in terms of my playing days. I’m more of a father figure or even a grandfather figure to those guys who are playing now. And I accept that. I looked at Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in that regard. These are the giants of the game. I made it my mission to chase that bar. It’s very high.”
Payton, an analyst for ‘The Warmup” on NBA TV, knows Russell fairly well. He’ll tell you that greatest Celtic isn’t too impressed by too many things — not even the ring ceremony. “Afterward, I went and sat next to him, and Bill was acting like nothing was happening … He was on his phone, playing solitaire. That’s Bill, you know what I’m sayin’?”
It’s important to Payton that Russell and all the members of his generation get their due. “I always tell kids, and people in this generation, I don’t care what you think about your game, you’re game ain’t like that. Your game ain’t start like that. People came before that paved the way for what you’re doing. Get up. If you see Dr. J, if you see Bill Russell … all these dudes, man, if you see these types of guys, man, Jerry West, man, get up and shake their hand and tell them, ‘Hello. How’re you doin’? I’ve idolized you.’ And even if you don’t, go YouTube ’em.”
During an appearance on the “Runnin’ Plays” podcast, Jim Barnett — who was drafted and played one season in Boston — shared a story about the time Bill Russell was given a key to the city just before a game the Celtics played in a Southern state. Following the game, the black players on the team were denied entry into a hotel because of the color of their skin. In response, Russell returned the key to the town’s mayor.
The climate of the time affected how Russell interacted with fans. “I remember one time, this businessman asked for an autograph,” Barnett said. “He said, ‘if I weren’t Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, I’d be just another N-word to him.’ Barnett added that the NBA capped how many non-whites could be on an active roster. “There was a quota,” Barnett said. “You couldn’t have more than two or three blacks. I know that for a fact.”

Al Attles: Not many from my era could play today. Bill Russell could have played today. Oscar Robertson. Come on. You got guys now who think they’re better than Oscar Robertson? This is a different game now. But not many guys of that size would be able to deal with Oscar Robertson. They would go out there and go, ‘Oh, God, Oscar Robertson.’ Oh, my goodness. Bill Russell, Sam Jones. But I would also say Guy Rogers. Guy Rogers probably, in my mind, was as good with the basketball as anybody today. And I’m talking about just with the ball. I’m not saying shooting and all that. But I’m talking about with the ball going where he wanted it to go.
Bob Cousy: Russell’s a very sensitive black man who resented any type of racism he endured. He decided to fight the battle in his way. I would not judge. You know, athletes are competitive, and it’s very hard for us to turn the other cheek. And he never did. He made outrageous statements when he had a podium. “Boston is the most racist city in the world,” and things like that. He was trying to get the attention of the majority. That, in his judgment, was his way to fight the good fight. Whether I agreed with that or not.