Legendary basketball player Bill Russell is one of the most decorated athletes in the NBA in all sports. While having a successful career, he endured discrimination and racism, even in the town that he played for in Boston. Yet, Russell had no problem in fighting against racism and worked to be a vocal figure in the Civil Rights Movement.
Russell even attended the March on Washington and met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“We stayed in the same hotel,” Russell said in an interview with the Golf Channel in 2013. “I met him in the lobby.”
King and his colleagues invited Russell to stand on stage during the event, but the Celtics great respectfully declined the offer.
“They had put years of work together to create this situation,” Russell said. “They had hundreds of thousands of people there. I did not think that it would be proper for me to show up and jump on stage.”
He kindly asked for a seat on the front row and he got his wish. Russell was only feet away from King as he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
When former President Barack Obama gave Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011, he mentioned the speech.
“When I heard the speech, I had no idea that the words of the speech would last as long as they did,” Russell said according to USA Today. “It never occurred to me it would be quoted 50 years later.”
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a collaboration between A. Philip Randolph, leader of Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Protesters, King, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). The protest march drew in around 250,000 people.
At that time, Russell was a three-time NBA MVP and five-time champ. He hosted an integrated basketball camp in wake of Medgar Evers assassination two months prior to the March.