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Boston to Build Long Overdue Statue for Bill Russell


Celtics legend Bill Russell

In a town with a history loaded with heroes, legends and giants, paying homage to each deserving demigod is a tall task. In that same town with a horrendous history besmirched with racial conflicts and prejudice practices, it is never to late for redemption. Such is Boston; a city that can hold its head high on its heroes and hide its face from the shame of yesteryear at the same time.

But the newest monument in making is for a true champion. The City of Boston has announced that a location at City Hall Plaza has been selected for the long-overdue statue of Bill Russell.  Mayor Thomas Menino, Celtics Managing Partner/Co-owner and President of the Shamrock Foundation Stephen Pagliuca, and members of the Bill Russell Legacy Committee announced the news at an early morning press conference Monday on the expected location on the south side near State Street. The committee noted the site's proximity to the historic Freedom Trail and the tourist infested Faneuil Hall as a prime reason for selecting the location.

On the one hand, Bostonians can be grateful that steps are being taken to repair the image of Government Center, an area that is the sight one of the ugliest buildings ever constructed in the history of cement. But most importantly, this statue will show a city's gratitude to an other-worldy athlete and a colossal figure in civil rights. The Shamrock Foundation has raised a substantial amount of money to fund the project through private fundraising but it will be open to public donations once the final designs are unveiled in October. Three local artists, Fern Cunningham, creator of the Monument to Harriett Tubman in the South End; Antonio Mendez, whose work includes the player statues outside Fenway Park; and Ann Hirsch, a local artist based in Somerville, have been selected to design the statue.

Many of our readers weren't even an idea back in 1956, so let's recap Russell's resume:

When considering the word champion, Bill Russell should be at the forefront. Russell holds more championship rings than he has fingers, a grand total of 11 throughout a 13 year career in the NBA. That covers the 1957, ‘59, ‘60, ‘61, ‘62, ‘63, ‘64, ‘65, ‘66,'68 and ‘69 seasons all in Celtic green. He also won a gold medal at the 1956 Summer Olympics as the captain of the U.S. national basketball team. Pause, digest and consider that Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar both have 6 rings, Kobe Bryant has 5, and LeBron James has none. To find an athlete as equally decorated as Russell, we have to turn to the NHL's Henri Richard of the Montreal Canadiens, who also boasts 13 championships under his belt.

Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2011 to ad to his list of shiny achievements. Obama suggested that Boston build a statue "not only to Bill Russell the player but Bill Russell the man." The expected date of the statue's completion is set for next spring.

Standing at 6'9'', Russell tallied 14,522 points throughout his career and lead the NBA in rebounds four times with a grand total of 21,620. He and Wilt Chamberlain are the only two men to ever grab more than 50 rebounds in a single game. From 1966 to 1969, Russell served as a player-coach, making him the first ever African American coach in the NBA. Are you still sitting? Is your head not spinning? Here was an African American at superstar status while battling shotty journalists and boisterous fans during a time when racism was in style.

Boston was no exception to this social trend. Russell had made it clear that Boston was "a flea market of racism." In his autobiography, Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man, Russell goes so far as to say, "I had never been in a city more involved with finding new ways to dismiss, ignore or look down on other people. Other than that, I liked the city." Russell's tenure in Boston was facilitated by the legendary coach, Red Auerbach, whose statue can be found in Faneuil Hall and whose legacy as an anti-racist served as a cornerstone of his legendary coaching career. Russell was so appalled by the racism he endured throughout his career, he was not present when his number 6 retired into the rafters in 1972 nor when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.

However, reconciliation was not far off. On May 6, 1999, Russell's number was re-retired in front of a sell out crowd at the FleetCenter. The prolonged standing ovation brought tears to the eyes of a giant. Since then, he acted as a spiritual mentor to Celtics big man, Kevin Garnett during the 2008 championship run and has commented on the changes Boston has undergone. While nothing can erase the ugly truth of bigotry in Boston's past, the Bill Russell statue will honor a man who battled adversity and achieved, setting a standard for generations of sports fans and advocates of evolving social values alike.

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