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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hoop dreams

Is it Boston or is it basketball? Whichever the reason, our Pickup Player-in-Chief is on to something when he says it's long past time to erect a tribute to William Felton Russell, the greatest athlete on the greatest team in Boston history.

Barack Obama got himself into some hot water when he injected himself into now infamous tussle between Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the Cambridge Police. The White House Beer Summit that ensued eased some of those jangling racial nerves.

So it's probably not surprising that the Harvard Law School graduate jumped in with both feet to address one of the longest avoided subjects in Boston race relations -- the hate turned to love relationship between Russell and the city he brought 11 NBA championships in 13 years.

Russell was never shy about his feelings -- toward Bostonians or anyone else -- during the late 1950s and through the '60s. As Obama noted in presenting Russell with a Presidential Medal of Freedom:
“Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men. He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow."
Adds teammate Tommy Heinsohn:
“Bill Russell became the villain of Boston, which is totally unjustified after he did more to bring praise to the city than anybody. He was standing up as a black person in the Boston area, which was very difficult in those days, and somebody ought to recognize that ..."
Russell left Boston with a bad taste in his mouth, just as the city entered its final paroxysm of racial turmoil, busing. The Celtics kept on winning -- although without the same amazing frequency -- until it seemed unlikely we would ever make peace.

It took the death of Red Auerbach -- he of a Faneuil Hall statue -- to begin a thaw in the relationship with Boston and Russell has once again become a visible ex-Celtic.

But in a city that named a tunnel after a Red Sox player who never won a World Series but did spit at fans, the lack of recognition of Russell's professional and personal accomplishments is still a sore point. A statue would be the ultimate example of how far we have come as a community in healing our self-inflicted wounds.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Russell's leadership requires a fitting tribute, or two.

Given the Celtics' pivotal and trademark characteristic of unparalleled dominance as champions: team work, wouldn't it be fitting to locate a statue of him right next to the one of Arnold Jacob Auerbach, his lifelong friend?

As for the second tribute, I think Bill should participate in making hat decision. He's proven his perspective and leadership is unparalleled.

February 16, 2011 5:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The same thing just came to my mind, although something more significant from a civic standpoint might be appropriate, too. I mean in addition to the statue beside Red Auerbach, not instead of it.

February 16, 2011 9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great idea.

February 16, 2011 11:06 AM  

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