The death of any athletic legend is always heartbreaking since those who admire them always wish they could live forever. When the legendary basketball player Bill Russell passed away earlier this month, heartbreak took the form of love and respect for the former Boston Celtics center who touched so many lives and gave so much back to the game he loved. In tribute to him, the NBA announced every team would retire the #6 jersey that Russell made famous in Boston, while also adding that Russell’s number would appear on every player’s jersey and every team’s court this upcoming season. To that, I only ask the NBA this: What took so long? Why did you wait until Bill Russell died to give him such an honor?
When anyone puts together a list of the greatest basketball players of all time, the name Bill Russell always appears high on that list. As the greatest winner in the history of basketball and the NBA’s first Black head coach, when any basketball fan said the name “Bill Russell,” winning quickly comes to mind. What also comes to mind is the class, grace, and courage that Russell shown throughout his life, through giving back to the game while fighting for the rights and equality of others in the face of racism few could ever understand. For generations, when a basketball player needed advice, speaking to Bill Russell was normally a good place to go, and he was always there to help.
In 2009, four decades after Bill Russell retired, the NBA paid tribute to their greatest champion by naming the Finals MVP Award after him. However, what bothers me about this recent honor is that it was not given to Russell while he was still alive. He passed away days after turning 88 years old, and I really feel like this could have been done for him while he was still alive and able to appreciate the honor for himself.
I understand that most major honors in American society are only given to people after they pass away. There are no living people on your money or even stamps (by law), which can be explained to some extent even if I think giving someone the honor of having them see a stamp with their image would be more of an honor if they were alive. It’s just a shame that this is another example of someone not getting their flowers while they can still smell them. But that’s neither here nor there.
In short, it is more heartbreaking to me that Russell didn’t see his #6 on every basketball court and hanging from every rafter in the league. I only hope that when the NBA puts the #6 logo on the court, they put it near each team’s bench to remind the coaches what Bill Russell did in winning a title as a player and as a coach. They should also put his #6 logo on the low post box in each lane on the court to remind modern day players where Russell collected all of his points, rebounds, and blocks.
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Should The NBA Had Honored Bill Russell Before His Passing? | TooAthletic.com