As Shut Up and Dribble will document tonight, former Boston Celtics center Bill Russell was an integral part of NBA history, and one of the first African American players to achieve superstar status and unanimous acceptance among fans.
Russell, 84, continues to be a basketball icon and an active NBA personality. On May 20, 2007, Russell was awarded an honorary doctorate by Suffolk University, where he served as its commencement speaker, and on June 7 of the same year, he received an honorary degree from Harvard University. Russell is also an accomplished author, having written several books since Go Up for Glory in 1966. His most recent book, Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend, was published in 2009.
Russell Has Earned 2 Honorary Degrees & Written Several Sports Books
Russell, who played from 1956 to 1969, has occupied many different positions since his retirement. He had stints as head coach of the Seattle SuperSonics from 1973 to 1977, and the Sacramento Kings from 1987 to 1988. He also served as a player/coach for the Celtics from 1966 to 1969, making him the first African American coach in professional sports and the first to win a championship.
Russell worked as a color commentator for CBS and TBS throughout the 1970s and 1980s. In later interviews, however, he stated that he felt uncomfortable as a broadcaster. “The most successful television is done in eight-second thoughts, and the things I know about basketball, motivation, and people go deeper than that,” he said. During this period, Russell maintained his status as a celebrity, appearing on a 1979 episode of Saturday Night Live and a 1986 episode of Miami Vice.
Russell Worked as a Sports Commentator During the 1970s & 80s
According to the New York Times, Russell became a recluse towards the end of the 1990s, living in isolation at his Mercer Island home near Seattle. “I wanted to be forgotten,” he explained. ”My plan was to fade away. I’ve tried to keep my life as small as possible. I have some good friends, and I have fun.”
”I was comfortable with going home and closing the door, but [business advisor] Alan [Hilburg] and my daughter and a few friends said that wasn’t right,” Russell added. ”They said I shouldn’t take my accomplishments in silence. While I’m not completely comfortable with this, I can put myself in a frame of mind where I’m not uncomfortable.”
Russell Was Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom In 2011
He published the acclaimed book Russell’s Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership from the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Winner in 2001 and five years later, he was recognized for his impact on college basketball as a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
In 2009, NBA Commissioner David Stern announced that the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award would be renamed the “Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award” in his honor. In 2011, Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for making “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Russell currently resides in Mercer Island. He had two children; Karen Kenyatta Russell and Jacob Russell.