Monday, August 1, 2022

Rest in Power Bill Russell

I just found out that Bill Russell, the great Boston Celtics center and coach, and a lifetime human rights activist, passed away at age 88. I have so many memories of watching him play. From the time I was ten years old, he was a hero and role model because of his application of intellect to the pursuit of sports excellence. I sensed this intuitively, but had it confirmed much later when Taylor Branch wrote a brilliant biography of him, “Second Wind,” where Russell describes how he invented defense from the center position by imagining the geometry of each shot and never jumping until the ball left the shooter’s hand. He basically applied the mind of a scientist to perfecting a sport. He was the greatest single competitor I had ever observed - outplaying the greatest athlete of his generation - Wilt Chamberlin- who was taller stronger and faster than him, and a better shooter, in one NBA championship game after another. He was also the first Black championship coach in any US professional sport His intellect, his discipline, his unwavering sense of dignity, his passion for winning, which was only exceeded by his passion for justice, puts him on my Mount Rushmore of great athletes who were also human rights activists, alongside Paul Robeson, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali. He truly symbolized the phrase “Rest in Power.” Basketball was a much better game because of his influence; but he also opened up space for athletes to be activists and intellectuals as well as cultural icons. Every racial stereotype, along with every image of the “dumb jock” collapsed in Russell’s presence. No one could undermine his dignity or poise! Not opponents, not sportswriters, not hostile crowds. He strode through the world as a giant, not only in size, but in moral force I am not sure we will see his like again, but his influence will be felt every time an athlete speaks out in defense of justice or shows a mind that encompasses a range of human concerns that extends far beyond sports