Today in Boston by Ethan Underhill: 4/16/1966 — The Center 🏀

At 6’10” with a 7’4” wingspan, the star center had already solidified his place in the history. Since going pro 10 years prior, he’d won 9 championship rings, played in 9 All-Star games, and raked in 5 Most Valuable Player Awards.

Then, today in Boston, 1966, Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell made history again by becoming the National Basketball Association’s first black coach. He also became the 34th member of an elite club of just 40 who’ve ever played and coached at the same time.

Yes, before extending Bill the offer, the revolutionary Red Auerbach had gone to a number of Russell’s teammates, all of whom declined for one reason or another.

But ultimately, it made the most sense for Auerbach to hand the keys to the kingdom over to his Minister of Defense, the same one he’d fought so hard to bring to Boston during the 1956 draft. From there, Russell and Auerbach brought out the best in each other, racking up 5 more championships than Belichick and Brady.

Astonishingly, the Celts kept winning for the duration of Russell’s final 3 seasons. In that time, Boston won 2 more Championships and Russell played in 3 more All-Star games. By the time he retired in 1969 at 35, he’d collected an unprecedented 11 Championship rings.

To this day, that’s more than anyone who’s ever stepped on the court.

More important to Bill Russell than any athletic or coaching feat, though, has always been his determination to fight for what’s right. From the earliest moments in his career, Russell leveraged his celebrity to call out the racism rampant in his own fan base.

When he travelled and discovered racially segregated establishments, Russell sat out the games.

When Muhammed Ali refused to fight in Vietnam, Russell told the press that was Ali’s right.

When Dr. King uttered, “I have a dream”, Russell was at his side at the Lincoln Memorial.

This was the courage of conviction that compelled @BarackObama to honor Bill Russell in 2011 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Talk about a champion.

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