Published February 14, 2011
Bill Russell already won the NBA’s highest honor. After winning 11 championships in 13 years with the Celtics, Russell was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1974. Six years later, Russell was voted the greatest player in NBA history.
On Tuesday, President Obama will award Russell the nation’s highest civilian honor, a Presidential Medal of Freedom. “(Russell) almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball,” the White House said in a statement.
“The first African American to coach in the NBA — indeed he was the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the United States — Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality.”
And yet none of the accolades tops Russell’s highest honor, he says — the day his dad told him he was proud. Russell talked to the New York Times over the weekend:
“He said: ‘You know, you’re all grown up now, and I want to tell you something. You know, I am very proud of the way you turned out as my son, and I’m proud of you as a father.’
“My father is my hero, OK, and I cannot perceive of anything topping that.”
Russell spoke with On Point about his life and career in May 2009.
Among tomorrow’s other Medal of Freedom recipients is Yo-Yo Ma, the Boston cellist (and WBUR listener).