SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – Almost a year ago, Alonzo Mourning was one of the few elected Basket Hall the Famers on stage who presented NBA icon Bill Russell for his second induction. Mourning was also on stage Saturday with Jerry West at the annual Hall of Fame ceremony to honor Russell again — although posthumously – before the induction of the class of 2022.
“He was a trailblazer and an important part of all of our lives for those associated with the basketball community,” a solemn mourner told Andscape after the ceremony. “I’m just proud of the opportunity I’ve had to spend with him over the years and share special moments. He raised me in so many different ways. I was inspired by his journey. He deserves so much recognition and commemoration.
“We still have to celebrate his name because he paved the way in a time when he had to face so many different obstacles. Not just on the pitch, but off the pitch. He paved the way for all of us.
Respectfully to Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or any legend who has ever donned an NBA uniform, Russell was the face of the NBA for decades for a variety of reasons.
The five-time NBA MVP was the biggest winner the league has ever seen, winning 11 championships. The first African-American coach in NBA history and part of the first all-black starting five. The two-time Hall of Famer was also legendary for speaking out on social justice issues, from his days of racism in Boston to his tweets in his later years.
The famed civil rights leader once led a players’ protest when Celtics players were denied service at a restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1961. The Presidential Medal of Freedom winner supported the protest. national anthem in 2016 by the San Francisco 49ers. quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Oakland, Calif. native joined civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then a UCLA player named Lew Alcindor) in 1967 as they supported boxer Muhammad Ali after he refused to be drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.
On July 31, Russell died at the age of 88 after long-standing health issues. On August 11, he was buried in a private ceremony attended by less than 50 people in Seattle, a source said. Hall of Famer Charles Barkley spoke at the funeral. Hall of Famer Gary Payton, also from Oakland, described the ceremony as quiet and small as he believed Russell, who was known for his famous cackling laugh, would have wanted.
“Bill was from West Oakland and he went to school with my mom and dad,” Payton told Andscape after the Hall of Fame ceremony. “Bill’s name always comes to mind. I’ve watched it. He went to McClymonds. After he went to Boston and went through what he went through, I always looked up to him. I wanted to [on] him. He was my OG. They have always shown him respect.
“It’s going to be hard not having me always playing with him and him always playing with me. It’s going to be hard not being around him. He’s not in this world anymore, but he’ll always be there in spirit. with us.
On the day of Russell’s homecoming, the NBA announced a one-of-a-kind honor as their No. 6 will be retired league-wide. This is the first time a jersey number has been retired in the entire NBA. Major League Baseball retired number 42, which was worn by Jackie Robinson, the first African American to play in MLB, and like Russell an activist.
The mourner was delighted that Russell received this unique honor.
“If anyone, he would be the guy to make this happen,” Mourning said.
While Russell was spotlighted by the Hall of Fame for two consecutive years, not too long ago, with African American pioneers in mind, he wanted nothing to do with it.
Russell was named to the inaugural class of the Basketball Hall of Fame of 1975, but declined to be inducted. He said in a 2019 tweet that he “turned down being the first black player to enter the (Hall of Fame)” because he felt “others before me should have that honor.” The Hall of Fame eventually added several black trailblazers through a special committee, including Chuck Cooper, the first African-American player selected in the 1950 NBA draft. Russell believed that Cooper had helped open the door to him. way to Boston.
Chuck Cooper III, Cooper’s son, said he was forever grateful to Russell for opening the door to the Hall for his father and other black basketball pioneers.
“It means the world to me, my family and certainly my father’s legacy,” Cooper II told Andscape. “And the thing about it, I was lucky to have been around Bill Russell a few times. When you think about his impact, not just as the greatest champion in American team sports history, but his impact on civil rights and the way he fought, that certainly didn’t strike me surprised. But I’ll tell you what, I’m truly forever grateful that he took that stance.
Following news of Cooper’s impending induction in 2019, Basketball Hall of Fame President and CEO John Doleva said he learned Russell was ready to accept his Hall of Fame ring. .
The Hall of Fame actually had to make another ring for Russell because they couldn’t locate the 1975 ring. Russell quietly accepted his Hall of Fame ring on November 15, 2019. Mourning presented the ring to Russell with fellow Hall of Famers Bill Walton, Elgin Baylor, Ann Meyers and Jamaal Wilkes as well as Doleva in attendance. Doleva said Russell joked that he needed to add more fingers to accommodate the ring.
“It was really kind of a watershed moment for Hall,” Doleva told Andscape. “Bill had a big smile on his face, and I know he appreciated it. I know every Hall of Famer who was there that night appreciated it. At his request, this n It was not a public event. It was a very private event. I remember, I forget who this house belonged to. It was not the house of a Hall of Famer. It was someone who was helping organize a golf event in Orange County.
“We all rushed into the dining room and Bill sat down at the head of the table, and a few words were said, and the ring was put on and Bill took a look at it. He has a big smile on his face.
Russell attended the pandemic-delayed Class of 2020 ceremony last year, largely due to the induction of the late former Los Angeles Lakers star and friend Kobe Bryant. During some downtime, Russell sat with fellow Hall of Famers who had notable careers in the 1990s and early 2000s, Kevin Garnett, Chris Webber, Paul Pierce and Ben Wallace, in a private room at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut in May 2021. Wallace said he and his fellow Hall of Famers of his day were in awe as Russell told story after story.
Class of 2021 member Wallace said the best part of his entire Hall of Fame experience was hearing Russell tell stories.
“It was the best. Just the fact that we were sitting there and all of us going into the Hall of Fame ourselves. Me, KG, C-Webb, Paul Pierce,” Wallace told Andscape. there to prepare us to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. So for Mr. Russell to be there and offer stories and start talking, he had everyone’s attention. We were focused on what we had to say.
“You sat there feeling like you were talking to a president. That’s the kind of intensity he had. He was talking and I had goosebumps. And I’m not nervous about a lot of things.
In 2021, Russell was in Springfield, Massachusetts, in what would be the last time he was inducted into Hoop Hall as a coach.
Russell led the Celtics to two titles as a player-coach and also coached the Seattle SuperSonics and Sacramento Kings. He was worried about attending due to his health issues and COVID-19. But Doleva was able to secure a private jet for Russell which convinced the Celtics legend to attend the ceremony with James and more than 50 Hall of Famers. Russell was featured by fellow Hall of Famers Barkley, Mourning, Walton, Julius Erving, Spencer Haywood and Rick Welts.
“I’m glad we were able to celebrate him and give him his flowers while he was still here. I commend the NBA for doing an incredible job of putting him on a pedestal,” Mourning said.
Haywood said Russell greeted him with an affectionate “middle finger” because “it was his way of saying hello”.
“He was struggling a bit, but it was all his boys,” said Haywood, who was coached by Russell with the SuperSonics. “But he was also excited to see LeBron James, all the young guys that were there, Paul Pierce, and Chris Bosh and all those guys. He was in his glory.
Russell’s wife, Jeanine, attended the Hall of Fame Gala Friday night at Mohegan Sun Casino. She got very emotional afterwards when she visited some of her late husband’s longtime friends, a source said.
While Russell is now gone, the Hall of Fame and its members will never allow him to be forgotten.
“Every time we see our great leaders leave us, it hurts. And I took it quite badly, knowing who he was and the fact that I had a great relationship with them, it was really painful to see such a great man leave the earth,” Haywood said. “The world lost a great man when we lost Bill Russell.