Fifty-two years after his retirement, Celtics great Bill Russell is still giving back to Boston.
Russell will be offering hundreds of items from his collection of trophies, rings, basketballs, letters, civil rights memorabilia, and more in a live auction.
“There are a few pieces I’ll keep for myself, but the rest I will share with the world,” Russell said via video at a news conference at The Auerbach Center on Thursday.
A portion of the proceeds from the auction will benefit Boston-based Mentor, a charity organization he co-founded that looks to improve the quality and quantity of mentoring relationships. An additional donation also will be made to the Celtics’ United for Social Justice initiative, with a multi-focus commitment to addressing racial and social injustice in Greater Boston.
The sale is being conducted by Hunt Auctions. There is no specific date or location yet, but the goal is to have it in the fall or winter in Boston.
David Hunt, president of Hunt Auctions, said the collection coming directly from Russell makes it unique. Hunt noted a Babe Ruth uniform his company auctioned for $5.6 million in 2019. Had it come directly from Ruth’s family, he said, it would be worth “$10 to $20 million, no question.”
“Clearly, this is a multiple seven-figure auction,” Hunt said. “There’s a premium placed on that direct source of the documentation that comes right from Bill Russell to the primary market.”
Among the items up for bid is a scrap page of newspaper clippings from Oct. 18, 1961, when five Black Celtics players, including Russell, refused to play an exhibition game in Lexington, Ky., against the St. Louis Hawks after Sam Jones and Tom Sanders were refused service at a coffee shop. It features a signed letter to Russell from Jackie Robinson dated from Oct. 19, 1961.
“It is gratifying to know that our athletes have the pride that you fellows do,” Robinson wrote. “Your actions aid considerably in our fight for equal opportunity.”
Hunt estimated that could go for as high as $50,000.
Hunt Auctions has worked with sports icons Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Unitas, Vin Scully, and many others. Still, Hunt said working with Russell’s collection has been very meaningful because of his impact on the game.
“If you think back to when Bill started in the 1950s and what he did for the game of basketball, it really gives you some appreciation and shows how much he changed the game,” he said. “That terminology is overused sometimes, but if anybody did it for the game, I think most people would acknowledge that Bill did.”
Kris Rhim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.