The legendary Celtics player has asked that his number 6 not be taken away from him due to the racism he suffered in Boston. From now on, the NBA will eliminate this number in his honor in all franchises.
Bill Russell I didn’t want a big ceremony. He had decided it by seeing how people had reacted to the farewell of Bob Cousy, the first star of the boston celtics. Tears, cheers, bouquets of flowers. It looked like he was dying and he couldn’t stop playing basketball. He also didn’t want his bib removed and hung at the top of Boston Garden. “The one who is stepping down is me. My number, let him do whatever he wants,” he said. This number 6 that he had already made eternal by winning 11 rings in 13 seasons, and that no one else will wear in the NBA: the league has announced that all franchises will retire their number in honor of the greatest winner of all the temperature.
“I have very little faith applause, what it means and how long it will last,” wrote Bill Russell in Second breath, one of the best memoirs by a basketball player, although he barely spoke about what happened on the court. A book written with the injuries still alive (1979, a decade after his retirement), and where he reveals more about the reasons why, when Red Auerbach offered to withdraw his number with the Celtics, he put a condition: that the ceremony outside behind closed doors.
“Boston was a flea market for racism. He had it in all its varieties, and nearly everything in its most virulent form,” Russell writes, though he omits the nastier episodes. Like the time his house was vandalized because he moved to a wealthy, predominantly white neighborhood. the attackers write ‘Nigga’ (the pejorative form of ‘black’) on the walls and defecate on his bed, among other things. A city capable of celebrating its sporting achievements while reminding it of the place of its people.
“I would rather be incarcerated in Sacramento than mayor of Boston,” he would say years later. His sin was twofold: being black and openly fighting for civil rights. Not to be limited to play basketball. In fact, among sportswriters, he was called “Felton X,” a play on his middle name (William Felton Russell) and memories of Malcolm X.
It would have been barbaric hypocrisy for that same city to fire him. between tears and applause. A place he didn’t want to return to in the first years after his retirement. Until 1972, already working on television, he had to commentate on a Celtics home game and Auerbach ambushed him.
14,000 empty seats
The first time the Celtics retired the number by Bill Russell, the ceremony took place in front of nearly 14,000 empty seats. There were three hours left before the game and the pavilion was still closed. There, beyond a handful of former colleagues, there were only workers, operators and a few far-sighted journalists.
In the few surviving images of when the banner was raised, with number 6 sewn into a small corner next to 24 Sam Jones, there are only six people. Auerbach, Russell and Tom Heinsohn, former teammate and successor on the bench, appear dressed in suits. In short, John Havlicek, Satch Sanders and Don Chaney, the only ones apart from Don Nelson who were still active among those who had coincided with him.
“I played for the Celtics, not for boston“, he wrote about this unusual decision. It was partly because of his aversion to recognition and public events (he led a very retired life until late in his third age), but also because of his relationship with the city in which he brought so much glory, as he showed in his presentation as coach of the seattlesupersonics, barely a year after the ceremony.
“It was a very traumatic experience and I had scars,” he confessed. “We won 11 rings and after the last one there were still people in Boston telling me there were too many black people on the team”.
Bill Russell would take decades to make up with boston, and until 1999 he did not accept the Celtics honoring him with another ceremony to retire his number. This time with the public, on condition that part of the profits go to organizations that help young people.
only two previous
Bill Russell was one of the players who, like Wilt Chamberlin, Maurice Stokes That is ElginBaylor, marked the evolution of basketball in the middle of the 20th century. They conquered the air for a sport that had lived low to the ground. The fact that he did it by winning 11 rings with the Boston Celtics makes him one of the greatest in history. The fact that he also used his speaker to fight for civil rights makes it transcendent.
That’s why the NBA decided pick up your bib number 6 in all franchises. Players who currently wear it will be able to keep it – LeBron James, for example – but no one else will be able to use it from now on.
In North American sport, there are only two precedents: the 42 of jackie robinson in the MLB (the first black player in the major leagues) and 99 Wayne Gretzky in the NHL (all-time top scorer).
Robinson belonged to precisely that line of black athletes who, like Bill Russel they used their privileged position to demand social justice in the sixties. A current that would be extinguished for decades, in the heat of stars who realized that the clash was losing them money, as OJ Simpson (“I’m not black, I’m OJ”, he said) or Michael Jordanand which has regained strength in recent years.
After Robinson’s death, his daughter called Bill Russell with one of her last wishes: that he be one of the men who they will carry his coffin.
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