Sports

Racist Boston didn’t deserve Bill Russell

Bill Russell
Photo: AP

Screw Boston.

Of course, the city and many of its people came out in full force to honor Bill Russell, who passed on Sunday at 88.

There were great tributes, words, tweets and commentary about this great man.

Without question, Russell was one of the greatest basketball players who walked this Earth. He dominated the game. Best of all, however, he was also one of the best people on the planet. He talked it, and walked it.

As gigantic as he was on the parquet floor, Russell was even bigger when it came to civil rights and standing up for what was right and fair.

Too bad that city treated him with disrespect and like crap when he was there winning championships year after year — eight NBA titles in a row at one point and 11 total — for the racist people that often were in attendance.

Today, some of those same people are calling him the G.O.A.T. Back then, they called him an ass. Worse, the N-word.

Even the Boston Red Sox — an organization steeped in racism — had the nerve to honor the Celtic great before their game at Fenway Park. This is the same franchise that was the last team to have a Black player on its roster, 12 years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.

Their owner at the time, Tom Yawkey, a blatant racist, resisted as long as he could. In 2018, the team finally changed the name of the street outside the ballpark from Yawkey Way to its original name, Jersey Street.

But Russell didn’t have to read accounts of the racism and bigotry that took place in New England’s biggest city. He lived it and experienced it live and in color.

Boston should have been paradise for Russell. Instead, it was hell.

Best of all, Russell, a man of integrity and honor, never let Boston off the hook. He once called Boston “a flea market of racism” in his 1979 memoir Second Wind.

Russell was Boston’s first Black star and fans didn’t like it. In fact, he was verbally abused by some Celtics fans. Sadly, Russell said he felt unwelcome during his heyday.

In probably one of the worst acts of cruelty, Russell’s home in suburban Boston was vandalized while he was out at a country club being celebrated.

In a 1987 New York Times story, his daughter wrote about the incident.

She said the house was left in “shambles.” The N-word was spray-painted on the walls, beer was poured on the pool table, and some of his prized trophies were smashed. If that destruction wasn’t enough, there were gross acts, too.

The vandals who broke in that night also defecated on parts of the home, including his bed. As you can imagine, Russell was devastated by the incident.

In 1972, the Celtics held a private ceremony to retire his No. 6 jersey at Boston Garden. The jersey was raised an hour before the doors opened for the game that night. Only family and friends got to enjoy the moment.

Russell, no doubt, didn’t want all the same people who hated him when he played to celebrate him then.

“Russell said he thought that Boston was the most racist place he had been in,” Thomas “Satch” Sanders — the first Black player drafted by the Celtics — told Andscape.

For sure, many wish you could chalk it up as the old days, give people a pass for the ills they inflicted on Black and brown people.

If you did that, you would be wrong.

Sadly, Boston’s racist history hasn’t gone away. It’s alive and well and continues to rear its ugly head often.

In 2021, Celtics guard Marcus Smart said he heard fans in Boston make racists comments.

Baltimore Orioles center fielder Adam Jones had racial slurs thrown his way in 2017. And a bag a peanuts.

CC Sabathia chimed in after the Jones incident. “I’ve never been called the N-word anywhere but in Boston while in the Majors,” said Sabathia, who played 17 seasons.

In 2012, Boston fans unleashed tweets filled with racial slurs after Washington Capitals forward Joel Ward, who is Black, sent the Bruins home for the summer with his overtime goal in Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And the media up there is in on the act, too. Sports station WEEI in Boston went off the air for 12 hours and sent its entire staff to mandatory sensitivity training after former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria, then a host on the network, adopted a stereotypical Asian accent while pretending to be Don Yee, Tom Brady’s agent.

Russell was an incredible man because he was able to succeed and fight on despite all the adversity he faced. For most, it would have broken a man. But not Russell. He always won. That’s because he was on the right side of history, always.

You can’t say that about Boston.

Screw Boston. The damage has been done.


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