For those of us who were Boston sports fans in our childhood while growing up in the 1960s, there was only one real hero — and that was Bill Russell.
With 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons, the Celtics and Bill Russell were the epitome of success, especially in comparison to the other Boston sports teams of that era.
However, even at our young age, there was something about Bill Russell that we recognized as transcending the typical athlete of that period. We recall that when he published his autobiographical memoir in the mid-60s, Go Up for Glory, we eagerly bought the paperback. It was one of the few (if any) books that we read outside of our required school reading.
We knew instinctively, even at our young age, that if Bill Russell had something to say, it would be important and would be told in a straightforward and honest way that often was lacking in the turbulent era that was the 1960s.
The hippies proclaimed, “Don’t trust anyone over the age of 30,” but that did not apply to Bill Russell, who won his final NBA title as the Celtics’ player-coach in 1969 at the age of 35. Bill Russell’s honesty and integrity were unquestioned.
To paraphrase a popular TV commercial, “When Bill Russell spoke, people listened.”
Bill Russell was as elegant and graceful in his demeanor off the court as he was in his athleticism on the court. Just as his emphasis on defense, rebounding, and leading the fast break not only revolutionized the game of basketball, but also set the standard for the definition of selflessness and the concept of a team player, so too, did his truthful outspokenness on the subject of racism in America set a new standard in the sports world for elevating our national conversation about race and other social topics.
As we grew into adulthood, if we were hanging out with friends, whenever we might be playing the, “If you could have dinner with anyone famous, who would it be?” game, our answer always would be, “Bill Russell.”
Bill Russell will be missed, both in the world of sports and in the realm of life.