Oftentimes, a legend needs no introduction. But when he’s entering the Hall of Fame for a second time, a convoy of basketball greats is needed to honor history.
Bill Russell was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, this time as a coach. He was already inducted in 1975 as a player, but his coaching career as the first Black coach in the NBA was celebrated this time.
Russell joins an illustrious 2021 Hall of Fame class, one that includes fellow Celtics Paul Pierce and Mike Gorman. Russell won two NBA titles with Boston as a coach when he was asked by legendary coach Red Auerbach to take over for him once he stepped down. He holds a coaching record of 341-290 in the NBA.
Russell becomes the fifth person to go into the Hall as both a player and coach. He joins John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens, along with Celtics greats Tommy Heinsohn and Bill Sharman.
“This honor would never be possible without my great friend, Red Auerbach,” Russell said in a prepared statement Saturday. “Red was a visionary. When he first asked me if I wanted to coach the Boston Celtics, I wondered, ‘Could I coach Bill Russell?’ Coaching the Celtics was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I had through my 13 years in the NBA.
“I had (chosen) Hall of Fame presenters who each hold a special place in my life and who I take great pride in playing a role in their lives. We are missing two important presenters: David Stern and Kobe Bryant, whose friendships meant a lot to me. And to my wife, Jeannine, thank you for putting up with me and for your love and support. Thank you.”
Russell’s presenters included an impressive cast: Charles Barkley, Julius Erving, Spencer Haywood, Alonzo Mourning, Bill Walton and Rick Welts. Inductees can only be introduced by those already enshrined in the Hall.
“Bill Russell allowed the rest of the world to know that if you’re qualified to coach, you can coach,” 76ers and former Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “Without Bill Russell, I’m probably not coaching.”
“He is the original,” Haywood said. “All of the coaches you see in professional sports, all of them stand on the shoulders of Bill Russell.”
Russell didn’t just have basketball players talk about his long and established career. He had former President Barack Obama speak on his behalf in a previously taped video shown Saturday.
Obama bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Russell in 2011, an honor given to individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” It’s the highest honor a civilian can be awarded in the United States.
Here’s Obama’s full statement below on Russell:
“Most people who lace up their shoes and pick up a basketball never make it to the NBA. Most NBA players never make it to the Hall of Fame. And most Hall of Famers are only inducted once. But Bill Russell isn’t most people. Bill already has a plaque in Springfield, honoring everything he accomplished on the court: The national championships in college, the NBA titles, the gold medal. That’s why today we are inducting Bill Russell, the coach, the mentor, the trailblazer. When Red Auerbach asked Bill if he would take over for him as coach of the Boston Celtics, it was an unusual request. Bill was still the team’s star player. But eventually, Bill agreed to give it a shot. At the very least, he joked I’ll be playing for a coach I love.
“Bill Russell, perhaps more than anyone else, knows what it takes to win and what it takes to lead. That’s always been true off the court as well. As I mentioned when I gave him the Medal of Freedom, this is a man who marched with Dr. King and stood by Muhammad Ali. He endured insults and vandalism but never stopped speaking up for what was right.
“When a coffee shop in Lexington, Kentucky, wouldn’t serve Black players, Bill joined his teammates in boycotting the game in their town. An act of civil disobedience that still echoes to this day. That’s why I could not be more honored to celebrate Bill Russell for the way he played, the way he coached, the way he led, the way he lives his life. Because as tall as Bill Russell stands, his example and his legacy rise far, far higher.
“Congratulations, Mr. Russell, and welcome, once again, to the Hall of Fame.”
— to www.masslive.com