Bill Russell, you know we love you. You transcend basketball – hell, you transcend sports – and you are truly one of the greatest social icons our country has ever known. Yes, your athletic accomplishments boggle the mind – two NCAA titles, Olympic gold, 11 championships in 13 seasons as the heart and soul of the Boston Celtics (two of the last three as player-coach).
You are a proud man, an intensely private man. In 1972 the Celtics retired your jersey, but you wanted no public ceremony because you were bitter at what you perceived as racial prejudice. People may not grasp this today, but you were Boston’s first black sports star, and you felt that because of your color, you never received the recognition you deserved for helping the Celtics to those 11 NBA Championships. And that’s why you refused to allow a retirement ceremony in front of fans on March 12, 1972. And that’s why only about a dozen players and friends were present.
You softened over the years, if only slightly and in 1999 the team retired your jersey a second time, this time in front of legions of adoring fans. And later the city finally did the right thing and commissioned a statue. It will be unveilved at City Hall Plaza next year will feature you in in uniform with your arm around a youth, reflecting your dedication to mentoring youngsters. I know this is a Red Sox town, and a Bruins town, and lately a Patriots town, but no athlete who played for any of those organizations has meant as much to the City of Boston as you.
It has been reported that you’ve recently had heart surgery. Thankfully, we hear that you’re recovering quite nicely. What we want you to know is that you’re in our thoughts 24×7. You know we love you, you know we’re praying for you, you know we’ve got your back every step of the way.
So get well soon, Mr. Russell. We want to see you at a Celtics game early this season – and just so you know, the standing ovation that you receive is st