The Boston Celtics, last NBA season’s losing finalist to the Golden State Warriors, honor the late Bill Russell in the opening game of the 2022-2023 NBA season this Tuesday, Oct 18. The Celtics will host the equally-dangerous Philadelphia 76ers in Boston’s TD Garden in the first game of the NBA’s opening-night doubleheader. The second game will feature the defending champs, Golden State Warriors, hosting the Los Angeles Lakers in the western opener.
During the opening ceremony, the Celtics will unveil the legendary center’s jersey No. 6 on the hallowed parquet floor of the TD Garden, to honor Russell’s singular achievements and celebrate his accomplishments on and off the court. Russell will be the first player ever to have his jersey number retired across the NBA. No other player henceforth will be allowed to use the No. 6 in all teams. Players who may be wearing the No. 6 currently will be allowed to do so, but the number cannot be issued ever again. Among the current players using the No. 6 jersey are: Lebron James, Kristaps Porzingis, Alex Caruso and Lou Williams. Among the Hall of Famers who wore the No. 6 were: Julius Erving, Patrick Ewing and Ben Wallace.
Bill Russell not only brought honor with his unequalled 11 championship rings in 13 seasons in the NBA; he was the first black coach in any major professional sport in the US; the first-ever playing coach; and the first black coach to win a championship as well. He is considered as the greatest winner in basketball history, having also led the San Francisco Dons to 2 consecutive NCAA championships (1955 and 56), before serving as the captain ball of the US national team to the 1956 Summer Olympics where they won the gold handily.
But Russell was actually a late-bloomer in the sport. He almost got cut from his Junior High team, were it not for his raw running and jumping skills. Going to college, he was once again ignored by big college recruiters, until a scout from the University of San Francisco (USF) took a chance on him. His running and jumping prowess were also recognized, as he became a member of the USF track team that figured well in Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) meets in the mid-50s. He was ranked 7th best high jumper in the world, despite not being able to compete in the Olympics. His 49.6 second time in the 400-m run was also considered among the top in the country. Thus, his strong sprint and a high jumping ability became his main assets that carried him through in the basketball arena.
Bill Russell’s game showcased the value of good defense and team play. He was not a prolific scorer like his arch-rival, Wilt Chamberlain. But he was a pug-nosed defender who popularized the concept of the help-defense in the crowded shaded lane, with his quick footwork and great leaping ability. Russell was not exceptionally gifted as an offensive force, but he created the quick transition offense with a big man trailing, anchored on a speedy outlet pass (he introduced the mid-air outlet pass) and a strong sprinting ability. His defensive presence forced the NCAA to make some rule changes, the first would widen the shaded lane; and the second would outlaw basket interference.
But Russell’s presence was not just felt in the hardcourt. He was a fierce fighter for civil rights, having had so many personal experiences of racial abuse. In fact, his relationship with the Boston media was at times difficult, due to the racial prejudice he felt he had to endure while living in the city. Toward the twilight of his years however, he finally decided to reconcile with the city that he helped create a great sports legacy. He would also be recognized on numerous occasions for his strong voice against racial discrimination.
Russell died last 31 July, at the age of 88. He was not just a superb athlete, he was also a strong advocate for human rights; a proud, principled man with great integrity and a tender heart for those oppressed. Bill Russell will now be remembered for always, with his No. 6 painted on the TD Garden’s parquet floor.
As the NBA Commissioner Adam Silver articulated: “Bill Russell’s unparalleled successes on the court, and pioneering civil rights activism deserve to be honored in a unique and historic way.” For her part, the Players’ Association Executive Director Tamika Tremaglio stated: “Bill’s action’s on and off the court helped to shape generations of players for the better, and for that, we are forever grateful. We are proud to continue the celebration of his life and legacy alongside the league.”
Bill Russell’s indelible mark cannot be overemphasized. The No. 6 on Boston Garden’s parquet floor will forever remind the players and fans alike of the standards of excellence, the greatness, and the extreme sacrifices one has to be willing to take to achieve success, whether it be in the game of basketball or in life’s many mightier struggles.
For a clearer view, just click on the pics. Cover photo courtesy of MLB.com. Other photos, courtesy of NBC Sports, the San Francisco chronicle, TheScore.com, AS USA – Diario AS, SportsMax, Venturejolt, Sportsnet, CBS News, Superior Telegram, Ring Basket, Wink News, Lookcharms, And Yahoo! Sports.