Daily Camera (Boulder)
This was the first All-star weekend since the death of 11-time champion, Hall of Fame player and Hall of Fame coach Bill Russell.
He was not forgotten. The entire season has been a tribute to Russell, with all teams putting his No. 6 at midcourt and all players wearing it on their jerseys. And at Sunday’s Legends Brunch — one of the best events of All-star weekend, not to mention one of the toughest tickets to secure — Russell was honored with remarks from Boston All-star Jaylen Brown, former on-court rivals Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-jabbar, and Hall of Famer Grant Hill.
Abdul-jabbar called Russell “my friend, my mentor, my role model.” He was 14 when he first met Russell and the initial greeting wasn’t overly friendly; the Celtics were using the gym at Power Memorial in New York, Abdul-jabbar’s high school, for practice. Russell was reading The New York Times, and Celtics coach Red Auerbach suggested he meet the player then known as Lew Alcindor.
How Abdul-jabbar remembered Russell’s response: “I’m not getting up to meet some kid.”
They met anyway, and became very close over the years, with Russell — notorious for disliking autographs — even signing a Celtics jersey for Abduljabbar a few years ago. And that day, just as he did in that high school gym a half-century earlier, Russell called Abdul-jabbar “kid.”
“There’s a whole lot more truth and love and respect for my 60-year relationship with Bill Russell,” Abduljabbar said. “Not just as one of the greatest basketball players to ever live, but as the man who taught me how to be bigger as a player, and as a man.”
Hill spoke of how he had heard plenty about Russell — his commitment to social justice and civil rights, an unwillingness to be deterred by threats, and his pride in standing alongside other athletes committed to the same, everyone from Muhammad Ali to Colin Kaepernick.
“And then I got to meet
Bill Russell. It wasn’t at all what I expected,” Hill said. “While I had read about his strength and his seriousness, what I saw with my own eyes was his happiness and his humor. He was all of those things. And that’s what made Bill Russell great. Great for the game. Great for the country. Just great to be around.”
Erving told the story of how he played golf with Russell, and how neither was very good. Golf was merely an excuse to get together and tell stories, ones that would often bring Russell’s loud and distinct cackle when he found something humorous.
“Everybody knew when William Felton Russell was in the room,” Erving said. “I cherish those times.”
Not only was this weekend the 30th anniversary of Utah’s first time hosting the All-star Game, but it was also the 30th anniversary of Adam Silver’s first All-star Game as part of the NBA.
Back then, he was special assistant to Commissioner David Stern. Now, Silver is the NBA Commissioner.
“It’s interesting to think about the contrast between then and now,” Silver said. It’s all different.
All-star ballots were on paper then and distributed in arenas.