Bill Russell’s impact on the game of Basketball is much bigger than his 11 championships. What the Celtics legend has done for the Black community transcends sports.
The game dominated by Black players for decades now was once deprived of any ethnicity other than White. Black players were actually barred from participating when the NBA was first founded in 1946.
Celtics took the initiative to be the first franchise to draft a Black player. When asked why they were interested in drafting a Black player, the Celtic’s owner Walter A. Brown gave the famous quote:
“I don’t give a damn if he is striped, plaid, or polka dot. Boston takes Charles Cooper of Duquesne.”
As the Celtics took up that responsibility, ten years later, it’s the 1956 draftee who they got in exchange for Ice Capades, Bill Russell did not just lead Boston Celtics to become the greatest franchise in the league, he changed the entirety of the NBA.
Bill Russell’s impact on NBA and the Black community
Now that the league has over 74 percent Black players, the Celtics great must be thanked for his efforts in making it possible.
Bill didn’t only pave way for his community to star in basketball, but he was also the biggest voice for a marginalized group of athletes at the height of the Civil Rights movement.
Former ESPN analyst Rachel Nichols gave Bill Russell his flowers a couple of years ago.
“One year, fans broke into Bill Russell’s home, spray painted racist words in the living room, smashed up his trophy case & defecated in his bed. People told Russell time and time again that he didn’t belong. Russell responded that he did belong & that they couldn’t do anything about it.” Rachel spoke of Russell.
Bill Russell was one of the biggest activists in the country alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali. He always considered basketball his second priority after his community.
The troubles Russell went through alongside having one of the most successful NBA careers in league history, are as impactful in the States as Muhammad Ali’s impact on the world. Because of Boxing’s incomparable popularity all over the globe, Ali had a far bigger stage to be the voice for the voiceless everywhere.
Bill Russell was an inspiration for a lot of people, including Barack Obama
None of the efforts by the Celtics big man went in vain. There is still racism around the world and in sports as well but there is a space for the victims to speak up.
The 11-time NBA champ was one of the few initial pillars in making it possible. Barack Obama spoke on Russell’s contribution to the Black community and his incredible basketball career, when the former President, was honoring Russell for his induction in the Basketball Hall of fame as a coach this year. Russell is the inspiration of the former President who taught him there is no ceiling of what he could accomplish.
“Bill Russell, perhaps more than anyone else, knows what it takes to win and what it takes to lead,” Obama said.
Russell won 11 Championships in his 13 year NBA career, the last two were when he was in a player-coach role. He was the first Black coach in the sport. Now there are twelve.
Obama continued, “That’s always been true off the court as well. As I mentioned when I gave him the Medal of Freedom, this is a man who marched with Dr. King and stood by Muhammad Ali. He endured insults and vandalism but never stopped speaking up for what was right.”
There will always be comparisons of players being the best at basketball or services to the community but nobody could be compared to this NBA and Boston icon taught everyone who came later, how to do it. Bill Russell is bigger than Basketball.