The inspiring career of Bill Russell, both on and off the court


Matt Kilmer, Staff Reporter

From his days at the University of San Francisco, to his legendary career as a Boston Celtic, Bill Russell has had a long lasting impact from his actions and words on and off the court, and will forever be remembered as a legendary activist and hall of famer.

Born on February 12, 1934, in Monroe, Louisiana, Russell was a victim of racism and segregation at a very young age.  He learned that there was nothing he could do at the time, and he focused on his drive to become a better and successful person so he could be in the position to make change.

After his family moved to Oakland California, he started to make his mark.  He led his high school to back to back state championships and committed to the University of San Francisco.  There, he would become a dominant big man and lead his team to 2 NCAA championships, while taking his duties as a student seriously at the same time.  He was drafted with the third overall pick in the 1956 NBA draft by the St. Louis Hawks, but was soon traded to the Boston Celtics.  In Boston, he would build one of the greatest legacies in NBA history, winning 11 championships in 13 years, and becoming the first African-American head coach in modern major sports.  However, all of these achievements would only scratch the surface of the changes he would bring to the country.

During his time in Boston, he dealt with terribly racist comments from fans of his own team as well as opponents.  This was something that he has been used to since childhood, but now, he was in a position to act and make change.  As if being a powerful and influential African-American man wasn’t enough during the heart of the Civil Rights movement, he took things even further than he needed to.  He traveled to visit students in Liberia in 1959, supported Muhammad Ali’s battles against the government in his rufusal to enlist for Veitnam, and even boycotted one of his games after he and his teammate fell vicitm to racial dictrimination in a Kentucky restaurant.  He would also travel to Mississippi to lead some of the first integrated basketball camps.

However, he was most notably recognized for his participation in The March on Washington, where he would be captivated by the words of Martin Luther King Jr.

Many years later, he has been recognized for all of his great deeds.  He was awarded with the 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and was also granted the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award.  He stated that the medal was a close second in his greatest achievements, saying that his first was his father telling him, “You know, I am very proud of the way you turned out as my son, and I’m proud of you as a father.” 

These types of things perfectly illustrate why Bill Russell is and always will be one of the most influential athletes of all time, and should be remembered and idolized forever.  And if it is any indication that what he’s done will live on forever, take what you will from the words of the late great Kobe Bryant.

He has been an unbelievable mentor,” Bryant said of Russell in 2016. “Especially from the standpoint of leadership and understanding groups, team dynamics and some of the experiences that he went through and how he was able to manage some of the teams that he played on, the difficulties he might have faced. He’s been an invaluable voice in my ear.”