How Boston Celtics nation can honor the legendary Bill Russell

Boston Celtics (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Boston Celtics (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images) /

When you walk through the TD Garden doors to watch the Boston Celtics play this season, the air might feel a bit different.

A bit heavier.

17 NBA championship banners will still be hanging from the rafters, but following the tragic loss of Bill Russell, the C’s chase for banner 18 won’t be the same.

Bigger than basketball

Russell’s brilliance goes far beyond the basketball court.

Like his hero and friend Jackie Robinson, Russell changed the world.

One of the most important athletes in history, he was a leader of the Civil Rights Movement and a barrier-breaking NBA player and coach.

He became a mentor and father figure to many players, coaches, and executives across the league. Connecting the modern NBA to past generations, Russell loved sharing inspirational stories about dedication, excellence, and Boston Celtics Pride.

Celtic Pride

"“I could not go to heaven once I left the Celtic locker room because any place outside of that is a step down.”"

Considering Russell’s famous quote about heaven, it’s not a stretch to say his presence will still be felt at the Garden.

Every time Marcus Smart dives for a loose ball. Whenever Robert Williams blocks a shot and subsequently taps it to a teammate. Every clutch bucket scored by Jayson Tatum.

Those special moments of Celtic Pride remind us of Russell’s legacy.

When Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon courageously stand up against injustice, they’re fighting for change in the world using the same platform as Russell.

Everywhere we can see his influence and impact.

In a season dedicated to Russell, capturing banner 18 would be a perfect tribute and storybook ending. But as the flourishing Boston Celtics continue to rise, we may also be witnessing the first chapter of another story.

A new era of Celtic Pride.

Fixed their flaws

In his first season in Boston, Ime Udoka shifted the culture by restoring the C’s traditional defense-first mentality, which has been key to the franchise’s success since the days of Russell and Red Auerbach.

Udoka’s dynamic starting lineup overwhelmed opponents with their versatility, athleticism, and physicality. Though they may have had the fifth-lowest scoring bench in the NBA, the Celtics surged to the top of the defensive rankings and came within just two wins of a championship.

The lack of roster depth has been addressed this offseason with the acquisitions of Brogdon and Danilo Gallinari.

Suddenly, Boston has one of the best second units in the league.

Having the luxury of multiple playmakers and shooters off the bench gives Udoka increased flexibility with an already well-balanced squad. They will be a matchup nightmare for opponents.

Chip on their shoulder

Tatum recently spoke to Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks about his unhappiness this summer.

Like other former greats, he is haunted by the experience of losing in the NBA Finals. That pain is likely amplified by the fact that Russell will never see him become a champion.

This budding Boston Celtics team came so close to sharing their first title celebration with Russell, in what would have been his last.

But this frustration will further fuel their fire.

Look for the Celtics to be completely locked in this season. Expectations will run high, the Garden will be buzzing, and everywhere we look, there will be reminders of real, true greatness.

Ways we can all honor Russell

With the Boston Celtics ready to contend for the foreseeable future, we all have the opportunity to play a role in establishing a new standard of excellence.

Russell notoriously faced vicious racism, violence, and hatred in Boston during his playing days. One of the best ways fans can honor his legacy is by simply doing what’s right.

C’s fans are widely recognized for their intensity, passion, and knowledge of the game. We respect tradition and fiercely love our favorite team.

Unfortunately, some are also known to cross the line. And though progress has been made since the days of Russell’s house being abhorrently vandalized, things are still far from perfect.

Smart can certainly attest to that.

Most Celtics fans are great, but some people’s indefensible words and actions have damaged the entire fanbase’s reputation.

In other words, a few bad apples spoil the barrel.

But by holding each other accountable, we can change the narrative. Be intolerant of ignorant bigotry. Demand decency. Become an ally in the fight which Russell helped lead.

Both on and off the court, Russell uplifted those around him to become the best versions of themselves.

Dedication. Teamwork. Excellence. Respect.

These things are more important to Celtic Pride than any banners or trophies. By embracing Russell’s life lessons, we can all exemplify greatness.

Together, we can all make Russell proud.

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