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HEAT Insider: Bill Russell

Jan 28 2008 4:51PM

HEAT Insider Interview
with Bill Russell

Bill Russell was the cornerstone of the Boston Celtics’ dynasty of the 1960’s, an uncanny shot blocker who revolutionized NBA defensive concepts. A five-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a 12-time All-Star, the angular center amassed 21,620 career rebounds, an average of 22.5 per game and led the league in rebounding four times. His many individual accolades were well deserved, but they were only products of Russell's philosophy of team play. His greatest accomplishment was bringing the storied Celtics 11 championships in his 13 seasons. Until the ascent of Michael Jordan in the 1980s, Russell was acclaimed by many as the greatest player in the history of the NBA. HEAT Insider sat down with the NBA legend for this exclusive interview.*

HEAT Insider: Why are you here today?

Bill Russell: “I’m here to talk to Alonzo (Mourning for the shooting of Sun Sports Black History Month celebration show). I was with (former Georgetown University Head Coach) John Thompson when he went to recruit Alonzo out of high school. I’ve known him since then.”

HI: Are you proud of everything that Mourning has accomplished throughout his career?

BR: Yes, because he is a dedicated professional. In any field, the dedicated professionals are the ones who set the standards of how it should be done. Alonzo is the perfect example of a dedicated professional in basketball. He plays with passion, intelligence, intensity and skill. He’s a man who cares for his family and he cares for where he lives. He does things in the community to show that he cares. He does the best he can to help. With that kind of philosophy there’s a poem that I like to quote (by James Russell Lowell): ‘It is not what we give but what we share; for the gift without the giver is bare.’ Alonzo shares what he has with the community.”

HI: Are there any other players in the NBA who you feel share those same qualities?

BR: “There are a lot of them, and that’s what is so nice about it. That’s one reason why I like the NBA so much. I’ve known Shaq since he was a kid, and he is one of my all-time favorite people. Dwyane Wade, I helped recruit him to Marquette. It makes me proud that I can say I’ve been associated with them since they were kids and to see how well they conduct themselves. I don’t look at the kids and say that they all should be candidates for sainthood. These are young men who have been shaped by their families and their communities and the things that they have encountered. Sometimes they look good on the surface, but there’s nothing to it. Alonzo, Shaq, Dwyane and a lot of these young guys, they go beyond the surface.”

HI: A lot of young players who enter the NBA really don’t know the contributions you made to basketball. Why is it important for them to know about the paths paved by you and other African Americans?

BR: “That’s really irrelevant. It doesn’t make a difference (laughs). The only difference it may make is that you may not know where you’re going, unless you know where you come from; unless you know where the starting point is. That is the only way you can measure progress. We all come into a place and a time, and we all deal with that. I entered basketball at a time, and that was what was going on at the time. It didn’t take any great courage or anything. You just live your life. I always think it’s kind of funny. People say, ‘These guys don’t know about their history; what you’ve been through.’ I say, ‘So.’ I say, ‘This is what you do: You shut the doors at Microsoft and you ask all the employees, ‘What do you know about IBM? (laughs).’” You know what they will ask, ‘Are they from Texas? (laughs).’”

HI: I think it takes great courage to meet and overcome the challenges that you and other athletes like Jim Brown have encountered during your playing days. I admire it.

BR: “I never thought as myself as courageous. All I did, basically, was what my mother and father told me to do (laughs).”

HI: Why is it important that the NBA celebrates and honors days like Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Black History Month?

BR: “African Americans are an intricate part of the development of this nation. We have been ignored. Folks who don’t know about our contributions, the things that we’ve done and accomplished, they are the ones who usually have superiority (complexes). We are just as relevant as everyone else. Honoring holidays like those is just to point them out.”

*Information obtained from