NBA Legend Bill Russell posted a photo of himself taking a knee on his Twitter account. Russell was wearing his presidential medal of freedom, which was awarded to him by former president Barack Obama in 2011. His post said: “Proud to take a knee, and to stand tall against social injustice,” according to the Washington Times.
In an exclusive interview on ESPN, Russell and his wife explained that he posted the photo to support the actions of NFL players in wake of Trump’s disdain over kneeling during the national anthem.
“I wanted them to know they are not alone,” Russell said to ESPN. “Just tell those NFL players, I’m with them.”
Facing and fighting social injustice has been a frequent occurrence for Russell during his professional career.
No NBA or basketball fan can deny or forsake what Bill Russell had on the sport in American society. Even Lakers fans must respect Russell although he bested Jerry West and denied the Lakers a championship throughout the 1960’s. Russell was not only a prolific player but also a poised athlete who endured aggressive racism throughout his career with the Celtics.
Despite aiding the Celtics to championships, Boston natives refused to attend Celtics games; they would rather patronize the low performing Boston Bruins. According to ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, “Celtics/Lakers: Best of Enemies,” Russell had his house broken into and fans did not like Russell and other Black players on the team.
In his memoir, Russell called Boston “a flea market of racism,” the Washington Post reports. When his jersey was retired, the Monroe, Louisiana native elected to have a private ceremony with just his teammates, according to ESPN.
Russell was also involved in the Civil Rights Movement; he was in attendance for Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In wake of Medger Evers being assassinated, Russell traveled to Mississippi to ease racial tensions.
According to the Seattle Times, Evers older brother, Charles, asked Russell to host an integrated basketball camp. In the face of the segregated South and death threats, Russell went to Jackson to help with the camp.
The 11-time world champion also supported boxing icon Muhammad Ali when he refused to fight in the Vietnam War and was present for what was later called the “Ali Summit.” Showtime Laker and author, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hall of Fame football player Jim Brown, sat along with Russell and Ali during the “Ali Summit” according to Yahoo Sports.
Along with his civil rights work, came a phenomenal basketball career; it all started when then Boston head coach Red Auerbach drafted Russell to give the Celtics the rebounding and defensive presence that the team needed.
Russell was league MVP five times, but was placed on the All-NBA First Team only three times. For eight seasons, Russell was on the All-NBA Second Team. In 1963, he was elected the most valuable player for the All Star Game. Six years later, Russell was placed on the All-Defensive first team.
The progressive Auerbach hired Russell as the head coach of the Celtics, making him the first Black coach in modern American sports. From 1966-1969, Russell was a player-coach and helped the Celtics win two championships. As a player, Russell helped give the Celtics nine championships.
The 12-time NBA All-Star averaged 15.1 points per game throughout his career; his best scoring average was 18.9 points per game during the 1961-1962 season. In two separated NBA Finals, Russell grabbed 40 rebounds.
Prior to his phenomenal career in the NBA, Russell studied at the University of San Francisco and pushed their basketball program into prominence. For two seasons, the Dons went undefeated; Russell helped them to earn two national championships in 1955 and 1956, according to the Boston Celtics website.
Before playing in the NBA, Russell helped Team USA win a gold medal at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. On April 28, 1975, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
The NBA celebrated his work by naming Russell on the 25th, 35th, and 50th anniversary teams.
When current NBA players see him on the sidelines, they salute him, respecting him for his achievements. Now, the basketball icon salutes current players for taking the reins in fighting for equality in the United States.