When you look back at NBA history, few teams can hold a candle to the incredible Celtics dynasty of the ’50s and ’60s. Only a precious few franchises can even be in the same conversation. Part of Boston’s on-court dominance is attributed to one player: Bill Russell. But the thing about living in the public eye for so long is that scandal can strike at any time.
Bill Russell’s NBA legacy
Russell was the most influential player in the NBA’s early days. He broke records on the court and racial barriers off of it. In 1956, famous Celtics coach Red Auerbach drafted Russell out of the University of San Francisco in 1956. The college athlete experienced two worlds: success on the court and racism off of it.
In 1954, Russell led USF to an NCAA championship, winning 28 out of the team’s 29 games. The dominant presence stood at 6-feet-10 inches with a wingspan stretching over seven feet. His style as a center was unorthodox, focusing on his defensive skills. In the mid-’50s, it was hard for a black man to excel, and his prowess met resistance at every turn.
Before his formal NBA debut, Russell’s stock increased when he captained the Olympic team in Melbourne Australia. Under his leadership, the US won gold in 1956, destroying the Soviet Union 89-55.
Once he reached the NBA, under the guidance of Auerbach, Russell quickly became the most prominent African American player in the league. The Celtics’ amazing run began right out of the gate. Russell played for 13 seasons, winning the NBA championship in 11 of them. Over the course of his career, Russell averaged 15 points per game. However, his defensive prowess that defined him with 22 rebounds per game.
In 1967, Russell broke down a major NBA color barrier. Auerbach retired, and Russell became the first African American head coach in NBA history. Even more amazingly, he played at the same time as he coached. However, between his hectic schedule and the mounting social tensions across the country, Russell officially retired in 1969.
The incident at the airport
Between the terrible tensions of the Vietnam war, the struggle for equality, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Russell became exhausted and disillusioned. Over the next few decades, his public appearances became rarer. For a while, he seemed to drop off the face of the earth.
Russell had a limited NBA coaching career with the Sacramento Kings and Seattle Supersonics in the ’80s but chose retirement and seclusion in the ’90s. However, the aging star reappeared in the early 2010s due to a misunderstanding at the Sea-Tac International Airport, reports CNN.
In 2013, Russell was arrested for having a loaded firearm in his carry-on bag. Although it was properly registered, Russell had failed to check the weapon correctly. It was seized, and the former NBA star was issued a citation that carried a possible $7,500 dollar fine.
The scandal that never was
Russell is now 86 years old and living a quiet, retired life. He’s still involved in activism. He recently issued an unequivocal statement in defense of Colin Kaepernick. As far as the gun issue goes, there was no further drama to speak of.
For a player so heavily involved in civil rights and groundbreaking social progress, explains The Undefeated, a minor issue like the Sea-Tac incident is no big deal. It certainly didn’t diminish his amazing legacy in any way.