Bill Russell, who died Sunday at 88, said it was his days in Oakland that prepared him for all that came his way en route to becoming the greatest winner in American sports.
The people he encountered while a student at McClymonds High School in West Oakland in the early 1950s put him on a path to success.
“We inspired each other,” he said in a 2007 interview with this news organization. “Truthfully, I feel like if I didn’t go to McClymonds, I wouldn’t be (who I am) today.”
Starting with his career at the University of San Francisco, Russell changed basketball with his ferocious defensive play. Quick and smart at 6-foot-9, he elevated shot blocking to an art, prompting college officials to institute goal-tending rules after his junior season
John Wooden, the late UCLA coaching legend, called Russell “the greatest defensive man I’ve ever seen.”
Said Red Auerbach, his coach with the Celtics, “Russell single-handedly revolutionized this game simply because he made defense so important.”
Even Wilt Chamberlain, who died at the age of 63 in 1999, credited Russell for improving his game, although he rarely came out on top when their teams met in the NBA playoffs.
“Bill Russell helped make my dream a better dream because when you play with the best, you know you have to play your best,” Chamberlain said.
For nearly two decades, almost no one got the better of Russell on the court.
He captured two NCAA championships and won 60 consecutive games at the USF. He was the leading scorer on the 1956 Olympic team that took home a gold medal from Melbourne after winning every game by at least 30 points.
And he powered the Celtics to 11 championships in a span of 13 seasons, the final two as player-coach, when in 1966 he became the first Black coach in American professional sports.
Former Cal coach Pete Newell, who led the 1960 Olympic team and later served as general manager for the Los Angeles Lakers, said Russell stands alone at the top of the NBA pyramid.
“Bill Russell probably had the greatest impact on the game of anyone that ever played, and I include Michael (Jordan) in that,” Newell said in a 1999 interview. “The impact he had on winning and losing was greater than anyone in the game.”
Russell was a 12-time All-Star and won five MVP awards in the NBA, including in 1962 when Chamberlain averaged 50.4 points and scored 100 in a single game.
“Wilt and I were not rivals. We were competitors,” Russell once said. “In a rivalry, there’s a victor and a vanquished. He was never vanquished.”
A proud and complicated man, Russell saw social injustice as a young child in his hometown of Monroe, Louisiana. And he experienced it in Boston, where he was the city’s first black sports star.
His home in the Boston suburbs was vandalized, with a racial epithet spray-painted on the walls. Recalling verbal abuse and threatening letters, Russell in his 1979 book, “Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man,” called Boston “a flea market of racism.”
His former teammate Tom Heinsohn, who is white, acknowledged the animosity Russell felt toward Boston. “And they were well-founded animosities,” he said.
Russell was more than a spectator in the civil rights movement, participating in the March on Washington in 1963, attending King’s “I Have a Dream” speech at the National Mall, and defending Muhammad Ali’s stand against the Vietnam War.
“To be a true influence of positive change in the world often means that you have to stand up against injustice and fight through adversity,” he said after sharing Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown.
Russell remained a voice fighting social injustice to the end.
In August 2020, after NBA players sat out playoff games in response to a Kenosha, Wisconsin, policeman shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man, seven times in the back, Russell spoke out on Twitter.
“In ’61 I walked out (of) an exhibition game much like the @nba players did yesterday,” he wrote. “I am one of the few people that knows what it felt like to make such an important decision. I am so proud of these young guys.”
Years earlier, after his family moved to Oakland when Russell was 8 years old, there was little indication he would blossom into an American icon. He wasn’t even a full-time starter at McClymonds, but Hal DeJulio, an unpaid assistant coach at Oakland High, saw something promising.
“I saw Russell’s head rise above the multitudes … I couldn’t believe it,” DeJulio recalled during a 2006 interview about the first day he saw Russell play.
DeJulio convinced USF coach Phil Woolpert to take a chance on Russell.
“I knew once he got him in there and saw him run and jump, he’d see he had a man from Mars — something he’d never seen,” DeJulio said of his selling job to Woolpert.
In his first USF varsity game as a sophomore on December 3, 1953 in front of a capacity crowd at San Francisco’s Kezar Pavilion, Russell faced 10th-ranked Cal and its All-Coast center Bob McKeen.
When it was over, Russell had 23 points and 13 blocked shots — many of them against McKeen — and USF had a 51-33 victory.
K.C. Jones, Russell’s teammate at USF and with the Celtics, suggested McKeen was “shellshocked” by the performance. He wasn’t the only one.
“People had never seen anything like his shot-blocking before.”
Soruce : https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/07/31/bill-russell-and-oakland-the-importance-of-roots/