If you’re asked to name legendary athletes, Bill Russell should be one of the first names on the list. There’s a reason the Boston Celtics center is synonymous with winning; during his time in the NBA, he claimed 11 out of a possible 13 league titles. Despite that resume and a sizable net worth, however, Russell isn’t content to sit on the sidelines and ignore current events.
For all of Bill Russell’s on-court accomplishments, the center also has a history of fighting against racism and inequality. The big man is still at it, recently taking to Twitter and joining the likes of Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, and other athletes speaking out.
Bill Russell’s legendary NBA career
For better or worse, professional athletes are judged by their trophy case and ability to win titles. Based on that metric, Bill Russell is one of the greatest players to ever hit the NBA hardwood.
Russell’s basketball career began at the University of San Francisco, where he emerged as a threat on both ends of the floor. While the big man averaged 20.7 points per outing in college, his defense was truly a difference-maker; he won two national championships in three varsity seasons, before heading to the NBA.
In the pros, Russell’s winning ways continued. Thanks to some shrewd maneuvering from Red Auerbach, the center joined the Boston Celtics; that move would prove to be one of the best in NBA history.
During his 13 seasons in Boston, Russell helped the Celtics win 11 NBA titles. The big man was more than just a defensive stopper, though; he averaged 15.1 points, 22.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game for his career, earning five MVP awards in the process. Unsurprisingly, he’s since earned a place in the Basketball Hall of Fame and has gone down in history as one of the sport’s greatest players.
Actions speak louder than on-court accomplishments
For all of Bill Russell’s talent, though, he wasn’t the most approachable star. While Wilt Chamberlain grew into a larger than life figure, Russell remained aloof.
During his playing career, for example, Russell refused to sign autographs. According to Martenzie Johnson of The Undefeated, the center didn’t want to misrepresent himself. “I refuse to smile and be nice to the kiddies. I don’t think it is incumbent upon me to set a good example for anybody’s kids but my own,” Russell explained in the Saturday Evening Post.
There’s another Bill Russell quote, however, that gives us some additional insight into his views on stardom. The Celtics center, it seems, placed more importance on personal beliefs and actions than pure athletic greatness.
“We foolishly lionize athletes and make them heroes because they can hit a ball or catch one,” Russell said, according to an excerpt of The Crossover: A Brief History of Basketball and Race, from James Naismith to LeBron James, which ran on Bleacher Report. “The only athletes we should bother with attaching any particular importance to are those like [Muhammad] Ali, whom we can admire for themselves and not for their incidental athletic abilities.”
Bill Russell worth $10 million, but he’s still walking the walk
Since Bill Russell was born in 1934 and starred in the NBA during the 1950s and 1960s, he’s no stranger to issues of racism and equality. While his status as an NBA legend and his wealth—CelebrityNetWorth pegs the big man’s fortune at approximately $10 million—would make it easy to retreat into the background, he hasn’t given up the fight.
Russell, who has a long history of working for equality, recently took to Twitter to make another clear statement. “#Trump you projected your narrative that #TakingAKnee is disrespectful & #UnAmerican it was never about that,” he wrote. “You are divisive & a coward. It takes true courage 2 stand 4 what is right & risk your life in the midst of a #pandemic #Proud2kneel #BlackLivesMatter.” The tweet also included an image of the NBA legend kneeling while wearing his Presidential Medal of Freedom.
That statement, along with several other tweets, makes it clear that Russell won’t be sitting on the sidelines in the fight against injustice, even in 2020. Based on his quote about Muhammad Ali and admiring athletes who do more than simply excel in their sport, the Celtics legend wouldn’t have it any other way.