Bill Russell, who has died at the age of 88, was more than just a basketball superstar and world-class athlete. As a dedicated human rights activist, Russell fought against racial inequality both in and out of professional sports.
However, the president was more impressed by Russell’s life outside of his athletic achievement: marching with Martin Luther King Jr.; standing up for Muhammad Ali; and boycotting a game in Kentucky after his black teammates were refused service in a coffee shop.
“He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow,” Obama said in 2011. “
And I hope that one day, in the the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man.”
The first game boycott over civilian rights
In October 1961, the Boston Celtics was in Lexington, Ky., for a pre-season exhibition game. Before the game, Sam Jones and Tom Sanders, two black members of the Boston team, were refused service when they tried to grab a bite to eat from the hotel’s cafe.
Russell told reporters the following day, per Bodanza: “We’ve got to show our disapproval of this type of treatment or else the status quo will prevail. We have the same rights and privileges as anyone else and deserve to be treated accordingly.
hope we never have to go through this abuse again.
But if it happens, we won’t hesitate to take the same action again.”Almost 60 years later, Russell cited the incident as he applauded another NBA team for speaking out