Paul Flannery has a long, eloquent piece in this month’s Boston Magazine, arguing that Bill Russell deserves a statue in Boston, to go with the existing monuments to Boston sports legends Bobby Orr, Red Auerbach and Ted Williams.
The whole thing is must reading. A couple of excerpts:
Bill Russell’s career is ridiculously incomparable. He won 11 championships, and only injuries kept him from an even dozen. Russell was the Celtic sun around which all the other celestial bodies orbited, from Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman to Sam Jones and John Havlicek. “Anyone who played on our teams will tell you, he was the guy primarily responsible,” says Hall of Famer Tommy Heinsohn, who broke into the NBA with Russell in 1956.
The way Russell did it — subverting individual success for the glory of team triumph — was as important to his legacy as what he managed to accomplish. “It’s amazing how we can talk about who’s the greatest player,” says Celtics coach Doc Rivers, “but there’s no argument about who’s the greatest winner.”
Russell’s winning is stunning in its own right, but that’s only part of his story. Throughout his life, Russell has spoken out about injustice and has stood firm in the face of withering racism. A man of both action and intellect, he is an author and an art collector whose favorite childhood refuge was not the gym but the public library. Russell was, and is, a Renaissance man in full. As the author and social activist Dave Zirin puts it: “Bill Russell is on the Mount Rushmore of great athletes who made a difference. He’s there with Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, and Arthur Ashe. That’s Bill Russell’s legacy.”
This legacy did not come without a cost. In a city with a racial dynamic as complex as Boston’s, Russell’s refusal to back down or mince words made him the subject of intense criticism and naked bigotry. There are two stories everyone tells when the topic is Russell and racism in Boston. The first is about vandals breaking into his home, destroying his property, and smearing his walls with racial epithets and his bed with excrement. The second is about how Russell responded to the attack by writing in his book Second Wind that Boston was “a flea market of racism.”
Flannery makes a strong argument for a permanent tribute. The below struck me as particularly lucid reasoning:
Russell doesn’t need a statue for pride, ego, or validation. When I reached out to Karen, his daughter, she politely declined the invitation for an interview, offering, “Good luck with your piece.” This isn’t about Russell, or even the Celtics, although they are the caretakers of their history. This is about us.
The city of Boston has been known to get defensive about the old days. “We’re past that” is the operative phrase. Well, if that’s true, what better way to show it than by embracing this complex, fascinating, and proud man in some tangible way?
That’s all I’m going to excerpt.
Then come back and let us know your thoughts…