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Sunday basketball notes

Bill Russell changed the game in every way possible

Because of mutual respect, Bill Russell eventually connected with a younger generation of NBA players, such as Joakim Noah.SUZY ALLMAN/NYT

The death of Bill Russell has shaken the NBA, leading to tributes and reflections on the greatest winner and most impactful player in league history.

Russell’s death has forced the city of Boston to look back on its history of racism and discrimination. The city has changed dramatically, and many players of color enjoy playing with the Celtics and living in the area.

What Russell accomplished during his amazing life was forcing those who discriminated or stereotyped to look in the mirror, to think again before categorizing someone because of their look, race, or culture.

Russell was able to lead the Celtics to two NBA championships as a player-coach, at a time when the league was mostly white and many owners wanted to keep it that way. In the early 1970s, these owners, afraid of young Black players infiltrating the league, attempted to ban a young Spencer Haywood from joining the league in 1970. He went to the Supreme Court to fight the decision.

The NBA wasn’t always the most progressive league but Russell and Haywood helped forcibly change its thinking. Black people could not only play but coach. And players should be allowed to enter the sacred league if they are talented enough, regardless of age or college experience.


Russell did not relish being the first Black NBA head coach. He was disappointed the league did not hire Black coaches before Red Auerbach named him coach in 1966. For all Auerbach has been credited for, his push for diversity and inclusion is his biggest accomplishment.

Russell’s coaching career after Boston was not glorious. He led the Seattle SuperSonics to two playoff appearances in his four seasons but could not push the franchise to the next level to compete with the likes of the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns. Russell also grew impatient with the 1970s NBA players, who were rewarded more handsomely than in Russell’s era but also relished the lifestyle more than the game.


He became frustrated with the modern player who did not seek greatness. He was annoyed with one particular player in center Jim McDaniels, who averaged 25.1 points per game during two seasons in the ABA and received a lucrative NBA contract. He averaged 6 points in the next three seasons with the Sonics under Russell.

Few athletes have a more significant legacy in Boston than Bill Russell.Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Russell suffered some of the same impatience that many great players do when they attempt to coach. He was masterful in handling the late 1960 Celtics because he commanded their respect and knew their games. But in Seattle, and later Sacramento, Russell dealt with players who only knew him from legendary stories and grainy videos.

The Kings hired him in 1987 to boost a franchise that had recently moved to Sacramento. Ownership wanted to add legitimacy and a Hall of Fame face. But his stint there lasted 58 games before he was bumped up to president and eventually fired after he decided on drafting underachieving Pervis Ellison with the No. 1 pick in 1989.

But other than Rick Adelman and Garry St. Jean, no coach has led the Sacramento Kings to the playoffs and the franchise has the league’s longest playoff drought, a string of 16 seasons.

Russell was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 2019 as a coach because he broke the league’s color barrier. He finished with a .540 winning percentage, two championships, and five playoff appearances in eight seasons.


He became the NBA’s ultimate elder statesman, a legend who followed the game closely, offering compliments and pointers to current players. Some resentment created by the players he coached dissipated. He had respect for current NBA players and they held him in the same regard.

That’s what makes Russell’s death so painful. He was a visible figure until his death. He posted a video on Twitter saying the Celtics could be back in the NBA Finals after their six-game loss to the Warriors. He seemingly never slowed down, never stopped inspiring, passing along knowledge and wisdom.

Should the NBA retire No. 6? It depends on whether Russell would have wanted it that way. Perhaps he didn’t. But the number always will be associated with him. And his impact will endure.


Stopping these fouls will help in transition

NBA referees will be able to apply harsher punishments for transition take fouls this season.Elsa/Getty

The NBA is serious about stopping transition take fouls — a player stopping an opposing fast break by fouling the dribbler to stop play. The Celtics’ Grant Williams is one the bigger culprits and the league added a more severe penalty.

Teams will be awarded a free throw and the ball when officials rule a player committed a take foul. The rule will not apply in the final two minutes of games. According to the NBA, there were 1,700-plus take fouls last season, a 55 percent increase from the previous year. The league decided it was time to make a change.


Take fouls not only stop fast breaks, there is an injury risk when a player going full speed is fouled by a player looking to make a collision without making a play on the ball.

“At some point in time between the announcers and watching the game and the data, you have to say, ‘Wait a minute.’ We have to take care of this,” said Byron Spruell, NBA president of operations. “We have a real process to understand what’s occurring and find a solution.”

The league’s competition committee and the NBA Players Association collaborated on the idea of penalizing teams for stopping the flow of the game. The take foul penalty already has been implemented in the G League.

“We actually thought whether this could be enough to actually take it out of the game,” Spruell said. “It’s been a great experience in the G League to take it out but does it also mean it will translate to the NBA game or should we actually go two free throws and possession? We will monitor it throughout the course of the season.”

Senior vice president of referee training and former longtime official Monty McCutcheon said the rule will be a challenge to officiate early when players attempt to challenge officials to make such an unprecedented call. In other cases, defenders may force the issue by blatantly trying to make a play on the ball and risking injury to avoid the call.

“First and foremost, do you make a play on the ball?” McCutcheon asked. “We’re not in the business of judging. The ones that we’re clearly targeting is the lack of effort. A real opportunity to make a play on the ball and you’re just reaching out and grabbing. We’re targeting that. We realize that there’s going to be an attempt to disguise it by making a play on the ball and that’s where the multiple meetings with the competition committee will help calibrate that. We don’t want our teams turning around and immediately fouling a person on the wing.”


The rule also will apply to players who foul an opposing player without the ball.


BC’s Bowman healthy and ready for another shot

Ex-BC star Ky Bowman is getting another chance with an NBA team after an ACL tear looked to derail his career.John Locher/Associated Press

Boston College’s Ky Bowman left after his junior season and went undrafted in 2019. But this isn’t a story about staying in school. Bowman signed a two-way deal with the Warriors, who had won three titles in the previous five years.

He played 45 games with the injury-plagued Warriors, displaying his potential on a team with a championship culture. The Warriors waived Bowman after the 2019-20 season because of a roster crunch and he signed with the Clippers.

Bowman was hoping for another opportunity but tore the ACL in his knee just six games into his stint with the Clippers’ G League team. After taking a year off for rehabilitation and signing with the Spurs’ G League affiliate, Bowman is ready to give the NBA another chance, this time completely healthy.

Bowman played for San Antonio in the Las Vegas Summer League. He was on the cusp of making an NBA roster before his injury. The 6-foot-1-inch guard scored in double figures in 13 of his 45 games with Golden State. He was rising before being derailed.

“It’s been bumpy with the injury but it definitely picked me up in a different way,” he said. “It’s something I am able to look back at and look, like, I got through it. That’s always a blessing for me and it’s something that will help me in my career. It was just a grind to really get back into it. At the same time just building my mentality and making sure I’m getting back to where I am today.”

Bowman was second-team All-ACC as a junior, averaging 19 points per game. Bowman and Jerome Robinson were the school’s North Carolina connection, recruited to bring the Eagles back to the NCAA Tournament. But both decided to enter the draft after their junior seasons.

Robinson was a lottery pick of the Clippers but was traded to the Wizards in February 2020 and waived a year later. Robinson caught on with Golden State’s G League club and is hoping for a training camp invite.

Bowman and Robinson remain close.

“I just talked to Jerome last week,” Bowman said with a smile. “When he was with Santa Cruz he was putting up unbelievable numbers, that we knew he could, and he finally got confidence again.”

Neither have had an easy road to NBA success. At 25, Bowman was one of the older players on his summer league team, so he plays mentor and guide, hoping for an opportunity to prove the knee is sound. It’s an arduous process.

“Knowing your time is going to come, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “Just making sure I show the teammates the support and love that they need and also help them in their roles and show them the ins and outs of something who has seen the NBA life from firsthand experience.

“I think with my injury, being here helps me see things from a different standpoint, because I was on the go just playing so taking a step back and having to watch and actually notice the game from a different perspective. It’s really helped me to be able to help these guys.”

Jerome Robinson (left) and Ky Bowman (center) are still close even after leaving BC.Michael Dwyer

The Golden State experience was invaluable. Bowman was able to receive quality playing time because the Warriors were in transition. Klay Thompson was out for the season with a torn ACL and Stephen Curry played just five games because of a broken hand. The Warriors were playing youngsters, just trying to finish the COVID-19 shortened season, and Bowman took advantage.

“It was great just being in that presence,” he said. “You know now seeing what it is that it takes to win a championship with what those guys bring to the table every night. How they operate throughout the team and away from the court. It’s just like a family tradition of being together as a brotherhood. It’s not what a lot of people notice but it’s something that every organization tries to have.”

But then he got hurt, and it changed his life. Bowman could barely watch basketball during his rehabilitation. He couldn’t stand watching while he was months from being able to run the floor.

“I had to take a step back and let myself embrace the grind because right after I got the surgery, I had to grind and I wanted to be back out there but you can’t right away,” he said. “Every day just showing them how healthy you really are. And everybody will get to see and the progress will open up eyes, like, ‘OK he’s back healthy.’ Just staying in the grind.

“I would love to get a chance to get back in the NBA so that’s the biggest thing.”

But it won’t be easy. The NBA is filled with 20-somethings vying for two-way contracts and most aren’t coming off serious knee injuries. The Las Vegas Summer League had many familiar faces and names who dominated NCAA Tournaments or led teams to conference titles, and now are fighting for a training camp invite.

Bowman said he’s ready for the challenge of returning to the highest level.

“I love it. It’s just another road for me, just taking it head on,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. You can’t shy away from it. If you want to go, you’ve got to go for it and that’s the biggest thing. I want to go for it. It’s still in my heart and I love it every day. It’s a blessing to just to be here and be on this team.”

There will be an opportunity for Bowman to play another season with the Austin Spurs, perhaps getting a crack at a 10-day contract next season. He averaged 8.3 points and shot 47.4 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from the 3-point line in three games this summer. The game is still there.

The time off has allowed Bowman to pursue other interests. He has picked up playing the guitar and piano. He began drawing again. He has taken a deep breath and become reinvigorated.

“Just finding out new things about myself from instruments to drawing and really reaching out to different hobbies that I never did during the season but I did when I was hurt,” he said. “Just being able to have something to. To have another creation in my life. A lot of things to keep my mind going.”


It's not clear if Jaylen Brown will be available in Toronto this season.Adam Glanzman/Getty

The Celtics’ final preseason game Oct. 14 will be fascinating and it has nothing to do with the final roster spot. Boston finishes the preseason at Toronto, meaning any Celtic playing will have to be vaccinated. In the Celtics’ final regular-season visit to Canada last month, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Jayson Tatum stayed in Boston and the Celtics did not reveal if any were vaccinated. Tatum said during training camp he was vaccinated and Horford told the Globe he was vaccinated after the visit to Toronto. Brown is the mystery case. He has not said if he is vaccinated and said the information is private. The Celtics could easily leave him in Boston to rest for the final preseason game and it could be a convenient reason. The Celtics usually make two trips to Toronto during the regular season and that’s where Brown’s vaccination status could be revealed . . . The Celtics added former first-round pick Bruno Caboclo to their training camp roster and the Brazilian big man has a legitimate chance to make the roster. Caboclo entered the draft at age 19, hardly ready for the NBA, and he’s bounced around, playing last season in Brazil. For the Utah Jazz summer league entry last month, Caboclo looked more poised. He has an NBA body and he defended and rebounded well. Caboclo is not a natural scorer but remained engaged in games despite not being the primary offensive option. The club also added Haverhill native Noah Vonleh to their training camp roster and he could compete with Caboclo and Mfiondu Kabengele for the third center spot. Vonleh entered the draft too early and has played with seven teams in seven years. His best season was in 2018-19 with the Knicks, when he averaged 8.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 68 games. It appeared his career was turning around, and he signed a free-agent deal with the Timberwolves but played just 29 games before being traded to the Nuggets and being waived. Vonleh is only 26 and has the girth and rebounding ability to play in the NBA but like Caboclo, he quickly turned from prospect to journeyman. He played 11 total minutes last season with Brooklyn and did not score a point. Vonleh has a lot left but the question is whether he can be productive in short playing time stints.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.