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Earlier today it was announced that the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation, in conjunction with the Bill Russell Legacy Committee, will erect a statue of legendary Celtic Bill Russell in the city of Boston. As most Bostonians would agree, it’s about time.
Russell is considered one of the greatest athletes to play professional sports in North America, having won 11 Championships with the Boston Celtics, three of which while he was a player coach. He also happened to be the first black coach in a major U.S. professional sports league, and was honored in February with the Presidential Medal of Honor.
It is well known that Russell struggled with racism in Boston, and fled the city after his playing days. He famously refused to return when the Celtics retired his number 6, and when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. But he has in recent years made amends with city, beginning with a re-retirement of his number in the new Fleet Center in 1999, in which the standing ovation from the crowd brought tears to his eyes. Since then he has begun to return more often to Boston, reaching out to the youth and even mentoring current Celtics’ legends such as Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
He offered his thoughts on being honored with a statue in the city where his professional career and his legacy began:
“I am uncomfortable with honors such as this but my years as Captain of the Boston Celtics were the proudest moments of my career,” Bill Russell said. “Mayor Menino’s Boston has proven to be a City that embraces the diverse contributions of all its people and neighborhoods. I am thankful to the Celtics and all the contributors for the effort to create such a wonderful Mentoring program.”
Mayor Tom Menino himself expressed his appreciation for this tribute to Russell saying:
“I am so proud to be part of an effort to honor Bill Russell. He is not only one of the greatest champions the sports world has ever seen, he is a man who has stood by and delivered for our young people through his support of mentoring programs. I want all Bostonians and all who work or visit here to recognize Bill Russell and all his accomplishments.”
Bill Russell helped make Boston the sports city that it is today; a city that has an admirable and storied history of winning; a city with a building full of banners and whose fans are incredibly proud. For that alone he deserves to join the likes of Ted Williams, Bobby Orr, and his own coach Auerbach as a man immortalized on the streets Boston. But he extended his legacy far beyond that, breaking racial and social barriers and becoming a part of a movement toward the things that he believed in.
He represents the best of what this city has offered to the world of sports, and the best of what America has to offer as a man.
Congratulations on all of your achievements Mr. Russell, Boston is certainly blessed and honored to be a part of your legacy.