Legendary Boston Celtics center Bill Russell spoke in Salomon 101 yesterday about the media's role in sports. Before the symposium, he sat down with The Herald to answer questions about President Obama, his relationship with Boston and championship rings.
Herald: What was your response like when you found out that NBA Commissioner David Stern wanted to name the NBA Finals MVP trophy after you?
Bill Russell: Well, I was mildly surprised. David and I have been friends for years. Before he was commissioner, he was the assistant attorney of the league. ... We always got along. So I was mildly surprised because in this country, there are very few awards named for the workers. (Laughs) I think in baseball, the only one I can think of is the Cy Young Award. I don't know if there are any others. But there's no award for Babe Ruth or any of those guys. In football, there's just the Vince Lombardi Trophy. But I was mildly surprised.
What's your take on President Obama's basketball game? Because that's a big issue that people are worried about right now.
He's a left-handed jump shooter.
He's pretty good, right?
Now, you say he's pretty good, where would he start? The NBA, the WNBA? But seriously, he seems to be pretty good.
When you were a player, your relationship with Boston wasn't necessarily the best. How is your relationship now?
Well, in this case, everybody thought I was having a difficult time. But I was having the time of my life. Today, the only people I'm concerned with is a guy named Tom Menino. He's the mayor of Boston. And since Tom has been there with the city, the whole image has started to change. And the Red Sox — I have an excellent relationship. But when I was in Boston, I would have nothing to do with the Red Sox because the owner of the Red Sox said he would never have a black player. And I found that a little offensive. But now, I go to Red Sox games, and I have an excellent relationship with them.
Mahatma Gandhi said once, "I do not concern myself with being consistent. I concern myself with being consistent with the truth as it reveals itself to me." So as things change, you must evolve with them.
Was it surreal last week at Fenway Park with Sen. Ted Kennedy throwing out the first pitch to Jim Rice?
That would be indicative of how the Red Sox are today — basically, that would demonstrate where the Red Sox are today in terms of human relationships. So the guys I know at the Red Sox now, include the owners and the management and the players. It's a good bunch of people. And I'm very glad that I have a positive relationship with them.
I must be getting old.
Why do you only wear two of your NBA championship rings?
Well, this one, David Stern gave me as a birthday present about five years ago. So this is all 11 championships in one ring. And this is my rookie year. And I can't get it off.