Very few players are able to transcend the rivalry between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, but the one who is beloved by all is legendary center Bill Russell. Not only is Russell the NBA’s greatest winner, he is looked up to as a pioneer for going through so much during his playing days.
Despite being a superstar with the Celtics, Russell was the constant target of racism from the team’s fans in the stands as well as on the streets. Segregation was still prevalent throughout the country and it made things extremely tough for African-American players during that time.
One of many players to look up to Russell is Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. With Martin Luther King Jr. Day recently being celebrated, Kobe made an appearance and discussed how much he admired Russell, as seen on Inside the NBA:
“I talked to Bill Russell a lot. About what he had to deal with signing with the Celtics, being an African-American in that city at that moment in time, with that kind of organization. He used to tell me some unbelievable stories about things he would hear in the stands, things he would experience at home, threats, things of that sort, the pay, things they had to stand up and fight for as a culture. He was big influence for me in educating me on where things were and then to where we progressed to, but still understanding there’s still much work to be done. It’s important for athletes to use that platform in whatever way they feel comfortable.”
With the state of the country now and frequent controversial comments being made by President Donald Trump, many athletes are doing exactly as Bryant is, saying and using their platform to speak out against injustices.
Russell, the NBA’s first African-American head coach, was known to have a terrible relationship with the media and fans because he often did the same, and would outright refuse to interact with fans because of his treatment.
It may have antagonized him at the time, but it was Russell standing up for what he believed, and that is why Kobe and so many others admire him.
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