In an extremely-belated (and completely unnecessary, if we are to believe the honoree) tribute, the city of Boston paid its respects to the greatest winner in all of professional sports, Bill Russell.
Celtics legend & Hall of Famer Bill Russell meets the media next to his new statue in Boston’s City Hall Plaza. pic.twitter.com/dOc8sj0T8u
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 1, 2013
As the statue’s unveiling reminded us all, however, to think of Russell as simply “the greatest winner in all of professional sports” – in other words, to think of him as simply an athlete – would be akin to calling Abraham Lincoln the tallest ever President of the United States of America. Sure, calling him a winner is a true statement – but doing so ignores the fact that Bill Russell is undoubtedly an even better human being than he was an athlete.
Russell was a professional athlete at a time when African Americans were still fighting to attain equal rights in this country. Russell used his celebrity to open doors, not just for professional athletes, but for artists, musicians, and business people, as well. He ran the first integrated basketball camp in the state of Mississippi despite the fact that he received death threats due to his involvement. And Russell also famously supported Muhammed Ali when the boxer faced being arrested for refusing induction into the United States Army. Ali eventually won his freedom in court, thanks in part to the support he received from athletes such as Russell and Jim Brown.
Throughout his time on this planet, Russell has been far more concerned with mentoring youths and standing up for human rights than he has his legacy as a professional athlete. He only agreed to the statue that the city had planned to erect in his honor once he heard that a grant for a mentoring program – the Bill Russell Mentoring Grant program – had been developed. His friends who know the true story are quick to point out that the reason Russell declined to sign autographs is that he wanted to be remembered as more than a professional basketball player. Today, the city of Boston made sure that will be the case for generations to come. Congratulations, Bill Russell!