NBA legend Bill Russell was also a civil rights activist : NPR


President Barack Obama awards Invoice Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. The president acknowledged Russell not only for his legendary basketball profession, however for his work as an activist on and off the courtroom.

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President Barack Obama awards Invoice Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. The president acknowledged Russell not only for his legendary basketball profession, however for his work as an activist on and off the courtroom.

Alex Wong/Getty Photographs

Invoice Russell was greater than only a basketball famous person and world-class athlete. As a devoted human rights activist, Russell fought towards racial inequality each out and in {of professional} sports activities.

In February 2011, Barack Obama offered Russell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom within the East Room of the White Home. He advised these in attendance about Russell’s report 11 NBA titles, greater than any participant in historical past. All the championships have been enjoying for the Boston Celtics.

Nevertheless, the president was extra impressed by Russell’s life outdoors of his athletic accomplishments: marching with Martin Luther King Jr.; standing up for Muhammad Ali; and boycotting a sport in Kentucky after his Black teammates have been refused service in a espresso store.

“He endured insults and vandalism, however he stored on specializing in making the teammates who he liked higher gamers, and made potential the success of so many who would comply with,” Obama mentioned in 2011. “And I hope that sooner or later, within the streets of Boston, kids will lookup at a statue constructed not solely to Invoice Russell the participant, however Invoice Russell the person.”

The primary sport boycott over civil rights

In October 1961, the Boston Celtics have been in Lexington, Ky., for a pre-season exhibition sport. Earlier than the sport, Sam Jones and Tom Sanders, two Black members of the Boston group, have been refused service after they tried to seize a chew to eat from the resort’s café.

In response to Mark C. Bodanza’s biography of Sam Jones, Ten Occasions a Champion, Jones and Sanders walked away humiliated and indignant. The 2 ran into Russell and Okay.C. Jones on the best way again to their resort rooms and defined what had occurred within the café.

The 4 males introduced the information to Celtics Coach Pink Auerbach, who rang the resort administration in regards to the incident. Although the gamers have been ultimately given permission to eat on the resort, they needed nothing to do with the institution and selected to fly house.

It was the primary boycotting of a sport over a civil rights protest, in keeping with the Basketball Community. When the gamers landed again in Boston, they have been welcomed by a predominantly white crowd that supported their choice.

Russell advised reporters the next day, per Bodanza: “We have to indicate our disapproval of this type of remedy or else the established order will prevail. We’ve got the identical rights and privileges as anybody else and should be handled accordingly. I hope we by no means must undergo this abuse once more. But when it occurs, we can’t hesitate to take the identical motion once more.”

Virtually 60 years later, Russell referenced the incident as he applauded one other NBA group for talking out. In August 2020, gamers on the Milwaukee Bucks selected to not take the courtroom in a playoff sport towards Orlando after police shot a Black man in Wisconsin.

“In [1961] I walked out if an exhibition sport very similar to the [NBA] gamers did yesterday,” Russell wrote. “I’m one of many few folks that is aware of what it felt prefer to make such an vital choice.”

Lots of Russell’s most notable actions have been through the Sixties

Russell was on the 1963 March on Washington, sitting close by King as he delivered his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech.

One other notable motion got here when Russell spoke to college students in assist of a one-day Black scholar boycott of Boston’s public faculties to protest segregation that very same 12 months. He was concerned in native points in Boston, together with being concerned in planning the commencement and chatting with graduates at a predominantly Black highschool in 1966.

After Medgar Evers was murdered in 1963, Russell traveled to Mississippi to work with Evers’ brother to open an built-in basketball camp.

In 1967, when boxing legend Muhammad Ali refused to struggle in America’s struggle in Vietnam, Russell joined different outstanding Black figures gathering in Cleveland to satisfy with Ali. Russell supported Ali’s choice to go to jail as a substitute of denouncing his beliefs surrounding civil rights and spiritual freedom.

Later in life, he continued talking out.

In 2017, he posted a photograph of himself – carrying his Presidential Medal of Freedom – taking a knee in an indication of solidarity with protesters throughout the NFL.

“Proud to take a knee, and to face tall towards social injustice,” Russell wrote.

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