|Bill Russell, June 26, 2017 at NBA Awards Banquet|
Muddy Waters lyrics conjure up an image of Bill Russell:
I'm a full grown man
I'm a man"
"Mannish Man," Muddy Waters
It was almost redundant for the NBA to give Bill Russell its Lifetime Achievement Award. Those of us growing up in the 50's, 60's, following the NBA, always knew Russell was "a man," the man. The Muddy Waters song cited above was a reaction to the fact that black males were referred to as boys, no matter how old.
Russell won an NCAA, NBA and Olympic championship in his first 13 months on the basketball scene, following with 10 more NBA championships, 11 in his 13 years with the Boston Celtics, then two more as the first African-American coach in professional sports.
Russell carried himself in a dignified, erudite manner, explained basketball and life with 50 cent words without talking down to his audience. He handled himself as a man.
In Russell's era, Boston was a very racist city. He came home on occasion to find racial epithets written on the walls of his home and human excrement in his bed, but NEVER gave the perpetrators any notoriety. He kept silent, cleaned up his home, hugged his kids, locked his doors.
Years later, in his book, "Second Wind," he described Boston as a "flea market of racism."
Russell became a mentor, father to all NBA players coming into the league. Even the loquacious Charles Barkley shut his mouth in Russell's presence.
In the 60's the three greatest athletes in their respective sports, Jim Brown in football, Muhammad Ali in boxing and Bill Russell in basketball, took center stage in the civil rights movement. All three were bigger than their sports achievements.
Yesterday, at the NBA Awards Banquet, surrounded and introduced by NBA greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and David Robinson, the 83 year old Russell looked each former player in the eye and said: "I would kick your ass!"
Then, he was handed his cane and he accepted the award with a short speech. No one today calls Russell a "boy." They know he's a man.