Bill Russell: Late NBA great ‘leaves us all a huge example’ says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Russell, 11-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics and the league’s first black head coach. died Sunday at age 88.

He was also a prominent civil rights activist, marching with Martin Luther King Jr. during the “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 denouncing racial segregation and supporting Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the Vietnam War.

“He became a role model when I realized that some of the things that scared me and worried me about race relations in America were the things that he brought attention to,” said Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. time, in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon on Monday.

“He gave me a way to talk about it that had all the elements of trying to do something better and not just being angry.

“He really helped me identify that in my life and make choices that were better suited to getting positive change and not just expressing your anger. He was exactly the kind of person whose example should be followed in this area.”

From left to right, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the February 2018 NBA All-Star Game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Abdul-Jabbar first met Russell at the age of 14, when he was a freshman at Power Memorial High School in New York. The couple went on to form a 60-year friendship during which Russell inspired Abdul-Jabbar as a player and activist.

In the late 1950s, Russell accused the predominantly white NBA of deliberately excluding black players, while he was also part of the league’s first all-black starting lineup in 1964.

Despite his dominance on the court, Russell was also subjected to racist ridicule as a playerwhile his family was threatened, broken into and vandalized.

“He inspired me to be better, to deal with situations… without giving in to the anger and rage that he must have felt,” Abdul-Jabbar said.

“He handled it in such a way that the people who tried to tell him to find the door and leave the Celtics were really ashamed. He kept winning, the Celtics kept winning. And they kept doing it with a few black athletes.”

The former Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers star added that Russell was “a flag bearer of black athlete pride” who “never made any of us feel ashamed or not proud.”

Russell, pictured in 2010, passed away

Russell’s 11 championship wins with the Celtics, including eight consecutive titles between 1959 and 1966; he was named NBA Most Valuable Player five times and was an NBA All-Star Game 12 times, including his last two years as player-coach for the Celtics in 1968 and 1969.

“The vandalism that Bill was subjected to was just an expression of the anger of people who felt that he should not be given the opportunity to achieve the same success as an athlete,” said Abdul-Jabbar.

“They resented his success and wanted to show him that he has a place in society that they don’t respect, and they were going to put him in his place.

“But Bill was above that and Bill just kept his head up and kept moving forward. The Celtics continued to win world championships and Bill showed the world what class is.”