That time Bill Russell attended a Red Sox game
Bill Russell had come to Boston in 2000 to promote an HBO special on his life and career and, after attending a preview of the documentary, I approached him in hopes of confirming a memory from my youth in the mid-1960s (”The powerful center of a dynasty,” Page A1, Aug.1).
I was sitting in the bleachers at Fenway Park with my uncle enjoying the first innings of a Red Sox night game and noticed a stir along the first base stands. A tall Black man in a yellow suit who had made his way up from the concourse was trying to make his way through the crowd, but row after row of fans, noticing who he was, began to stand in ovation. Within seconds, play on the field halted as the players joined in the applause.
Russell roared when I asked him to recall the night and he recounted the memory — just days after leading the Celtics to another NBA championship, he had decided, rather on the spur of the moment, to take in the game with friends. “I was surprised by the whole thing myself,” Russell said. “I just wanted to find our seats, but we couldn’t move!” I would later learn that it was only one of a handful of times in Fenway Park’s 110-year history that something that had taken place in the stands stopped the play on the field.
The writer was an editor and reporter for the Globe for 40 years.
He was also a good basketball player
Bill Russell was one of the greatest citizens of Boston in the last 100 years. He was also a good basketball player. But his greatness on the court must not be allowed to obscure his extraordinary example as a man. No one overcame so much, with such grace, to inspire and lift up so many.
The man beyond the court
Bill Russell’s passing is a sad milestone in Boston history as we remember his extraordinary success on the court with his record 11 NBA championships, two NCAA trophies, and an Olympic gold medal. However, we should also remember his work addressing racial injustice. He used his success in basketball to address important issues facing the nation, and knew that his importance as a person extended beyond the court.
It’s been years since I read “Go Up For Glory” by Bill Russell. In it, he said that his father taught him that if you had a job that paid, oh say, $4 an hour, give your boss $6 an hour of work. That way your boss needed you much more than you needed your boss. Bill Russell lived up to that advice.
What mattered most
Bill Russell’s accomplishments on the court and his stands off the court confirm my impressions of the lesser greatness of Tom Brady and Michael Jordan. Extraordinary athletes, champions, and team focused as they are, their concern about image and marketability off court diminish them in comparison to the great No. 6 who was unafraid to speak and model the truth during and after his career. Integrity spoke more loudly to Russell than money.
The true GOAT
Bill Russell was the greatest champion in all of team sports. The countless accolades that he earned during his storied career with the Boston Celtics — including a record 11 NBA Championships and five MVP awards — only begin to tell the story of Russell’s immense impact on the league and the broader society.
Russell stood for something much bigger than sports: The values of equality, respect, and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of the league. At the height of his athletic career, he advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed down to generations of NBA players who followed in his footsteps. Through the taunts, threats, and unthinkable adversity, Russell rose above it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.
Russell was the ultimate winner and consummate teammate, and his influence on the NBA will be felt forever.
Hallandale Beach, FL
How to be remembered
Sometimes the obvious is simply unquestionable. For instance, on the day that Bill Russell is being remembered by everyone as a highly disciplined, unselfish team player, it’s been reported that Deshaun Watson will be suspended by the NFL for six games following accusations of sexual misconduct made by dozens of women (”Browns QB Deshaun Watson suspended for 6 games,” Sports, Aug. 1). On one hand, you have a man, Russell, who always put the collective achievements of his teammates ahead of personal glory versus someone who allegedly prioritized his own self-gratification. The differences couldn’t possibly be more stark or defining of character.