Bill Russell A Champion On and Off The Court

Throughout his 88 years on this earth, Bill Russell faced many challenges. On the basketball court, Russell was a member of Boston Celtics that won 11 NBA Championship titles during his 13-year career and became the first Black Coach to win an NBA title. He was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player 5 times and played in 12 NBA All-star games. Off the court, he faces many trials and tribulations, he was a civil rights activist and leader of men and in 2011 he received the highest honor when he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his accomplishments on the court and in the civil rights movement. Bill Russell was born on February 12, 1934 in Monroe, Louisiana. Like most Southern towns Monroe was extremely segregated, and Bill’s family struggled through the brutal stain of racism on a daily basis. He watched a gas station owner point a shotgun at his father after he tried to leave to find another station that would offer him service of his car. In another incident a police officer approached his mother and order her to go home and change to a new outfit as he described it as “white female’s clothing”.

When Bill was 8 years old his family moved to Oakland California where they struggled financially and lived in series of public housing programs. During his early years Bill picked up basketball as his body and his height started grow but despite that he struggled with the all-around skill set to be a complete player. As he worked hard on his fundamentals from the advice of his high school coach and a growth spurt Russell became a decent basketball player. He mainly known for his shot blocking defensive skills that made it difficult for opponents to get a good open layup. Despite his success he was only offer one scholarship which was the University of San Francisco, While at University of San Francisco the team won 2 NCAA College Basketball title in 1955 and 1956 including a string of 55 consecutive victories and Bill was voted the most outstanding player of the NCAA tournament in 1955 where he average 20.7 points per game and 20.3 rebounds per game.

In 1956 Bill enter the NBA draft, he was originally drafted by the St Louis Hawks, but the team traded him to the Boston Celtics.  Before his first year with the Celtics, Bill was the captain of the 1956 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team in which the team won the Gold Medal when they defeat the Soviet Union 89-55.  For the 1956-57 season Bill Russell’s team, the Boston Celtics won the first of its historical 11 NBA titles when the beat the St Louis Hawks in the best of 7 games 4-3 with 125-123 victory. But despite it all Bill faced the brutal ugly stain of racism and racial vandalism in Boston. The city has been called the Birmingham, Alabama of the North and during his 13 years as a member of the team, his house was vandalized with racial graffiti and he received death threats and hate mail at his address. This despite winning 11 NBA titles and being the first African American Coach to Coach a team to a World title during the 1968-69 season. I Personally, I don’t believe the city of Boston should full honor of Bill Russell in the way how he was treated.

Russell was also active in the civil rights movement during the 1960’s. He joined the 1963 March on Washington and was with Dr. Martin Luther King’s during his “I have A Dream” Speech. He also traveled to Mississippi to attend the funeral of civil rights leader Medgar Evers after he was assassinated that year. In 1961, Russell led a player protest and refuse to play after several Black players on his Boston Celtics team were denied service at Hotel coffee shop in Lexington, Kentucky, while in town to play a basketball game against the St. Louis Hawks. But his most significant move was in 1967 when he joined fellow Black Athletes called “The Cleveland Summit” in their support of Muhammad Ali who refused to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Russell was joined with NFL stars Jim Brown, Willie Davis, John B Wooten, Curtis McClinton and Bobby Mitchell, Basketball Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and others, holding a press conference in Cleveland. I wasn’t alive when he came to Southwest Missouri State University, (now Missouri State University) in 1970. But my Dad Mr. Euan Fannell and my Uncle David Shipps were their when he spoke, and he said these words to the students, “Everybody will tell you what you can’t do it’s what you do that counts”.  On July 31st, 2022, it was his time to leave this earth. I don’t think he would want many of his supporters to cry but to celebrate his 88 years of service on and off the court because in the end He talked it and he walked it with no apology. Thank Mr. William Felton Russell for your service on and off the court.

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