Basketball never stops. On and off the floor. Including court content that we can see on our small, streaming screens at home.
Netflix’s latest documentary looks at the late, great Boston Celtics icon and civil rights activist Bill Russell. It’s the makings of a ‘Legend’.
Narrated by ‘Ant-Man and The Wasp’ actor Corey Stoll. ‘Bill Russell: Legend’ clocks in at just over three hours and is split into two-parts for those wanting to savour instead of binge.
Reading heavily into Bill’s book ‘Second Wind’. The moving memoir extracts are read with punctuated power by the voice of ‘Westworld’ actor Jeffrey Wright. Most recently known as The Watcher, storytelling for Marvel’s ‘What If…?’ animated series.
Archive footage of Russell and his notorious cackle, in all its contagious and compelling cadence, brings new life to the legend we lost last year. As close to a historical document as we will get regarding a man who threw out the old history book and wrote a whole new one.
Bill Russell originally turned down his Hall of Fame induction. His first jersey retirement ceremony was a private affair. They called him arrogant and aloof, but the Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, who inspired everyone from Kobe Bryant to Barack Obama, was the truest teammate. As humble as he was hallowed.
The statue they erected in Boston served as a monument to one of the heads of the NBA’s Mount Rushmore. Russell won big. As a player and as a player/coach.
It’s the least the people of Boston could do after making Bill feel so unwelcome in town as a player. Racism ran rampant as Russell was taunted and called all sorts of disgraceful names.
Disgusting thugs even destroyed his property. His trash cans were turned over nightly. The police said it was just “raccoons”. The legend told them that he was going to buy a shotgun the following morning. The very next night, those raccoons hit the road.
Without taking a single shot, he could impact the game like Magic. Earvin Johnson will tell you. Like Laker testimonials from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West and more importantly Boston Celtics legends like Bob Cousy and Larry Bird. Sound-bites from Stephen Curry and Chris Paul in the documentary also show how far Russell’s reach still extends today.
Just like the extended hand of his friend, the late, great Goliath, Wilt Chamberlain. The basketball idols became rivals on the hardwood and fell out off-court. But they reunited years later in a beautiful moment as poignant as it was powerful.
Heartbreaking, too, when you realize how much the game owes Wilt. Many folks disregard his name and place shame on it. Calling him selfish and such. When other stars with the same attributes or characteristics today get praised for those very things. Give Chamberlain the respect he was always due. He belongs with the Gods.
Bill was in the front row to witness Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech in Washington, DC. Although he politely declined an invitation to speak himself.
He was at the Cleveland Summit with Jim Brown and Kareem. In support of Muhammed Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. Providing counsel and consideration to the champ. All when most had made up their ignorant minds. Russell expressed how lonely the young fighter must have been. Holding him in his arms, as now, we can truly see just how young the 24-year-old fighter was.
Bill Russell was more than the game, yet he gave basketball all the intangibles you would want from the perfect player. Starting with the defence. Keeping the ball in play with his blocks that started fast-breaks he never needed to finish.
He was the ultimate assist. The prototype of all who play today. Seeing the game as geometry and poetry. A painting like he was Michelangelo with the brush. The banner filled rafters were his Sistine Chapel.
This week, NBA courts have been canvassed with magnificent moments. From monster moves being made at the trade deadline (talking of Russell), to all-time records being broken. But the point remains that the story of the biggest legend belongs to number six.
When it comes to those they call GOAT, there is no greater winner. The man whose association retired digit is carried on the shoulders of all NBA team jerseys this season. The big who won one more ring than he has fingers on each hand.
That is just one small part of Bill Russell’s legacy. Forever forged on-court.
You’ll see the bigger picture for the rest of eternity.