For the basketball game, Bill Russell was everything.
Russell was more than just the biggest winner of all time, he was the ultimate teammate, a breakthrough coach and a civil rights pioneer.
And that was only during his playing career
After retiring from football in 1969, Russell stayed close, spending time as a commentator and coach, but it was his influence as a mentor that will be felt for generations to come.
Whether it was All-Star Weekend, the NBA Global Games, or the NBA Finals, you knew an event mattered when Russell was there.
It wasn’t just for show.
The outpouring of love following Russell’s death is only beginning to lift the curtains on what he means to the NBA family — from his peers to those far too young to ever see him play.
MORE: NBA world mourns death of Bill Russell | Bill Russell’s legacy as one of Boston’s greatest athletes
Some of the most memorable moments are the real conversations, including a conversation with Kobe Bryant at the 2008 NBA All-Star Game where Russell told him, “I couldn’t be prouder of you than if you were my own son.”
NBA legends Kobe Bryant and Bill Russell shared a moment together on the court during the 2008 NBA All-Star Weekend.#20Hoop class Anchoring: Saturday, May 15 – 5:30 p.m. ET on ESPN pic.twitter.com/6yWfv5sa3v
— NBA History (@NBAHistory) May 13, 2021
That one moment was symbolic of a special bond the two maintained up until Bryant’s tragic death. And even after Bryant’s death, Russell made sure his legacy lived on, almost always wearing a black hat with purple “KB” in a gold heart.
And then there was Kevin Garnett.
While Garnett and Russell already shared a bond of being great great men of all time, that bond grew even stronger when Garnett joined the Celtics family in 2007.
In March 2008, the two had a one-on-one meeting, during which Russell told Garnett, “If you don’t (win a ring) but I see you playing the way you should play, I’ll share one of mine with you.” This is a real friendship thing I’m talking about.
Not less than three months later, confetti fell from the rafters at the TD Garden as the Celtics celebrated their 17th NBA championship.
Almost all of us remember Garnett’s iconic “Anything is possible!” exclamation after the game, making it easy to forget that KG found Russell once the interview was wrapped.
As they hugged, Garnett referenced the interview by saying, “I have my own,” before telling Russell, “I hope we made you proud.”
Garnett, like every other player who came into the league after Russell, just wanted to make him proud.
And the above are just a few countless examples of Russell being someone everyone looked up to. Russell’s accolades spoke for themselves, but no amount of rings, trophies, or honors can quantify his greatness.
Russell’s presence was awe-inspiring, but he provided many light-hearted moments along the way.
Did he joke with Dwight Howard, Giving Charles Barkley a dose of his own medicine or when he opened his Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech by telling Abdul-Jabbar, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo that in their prime he would “kick their ass,” Russell knew exactly how to connect with people anytime moment.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 27, 2017
When the NBA Finals MVP Award was aptly renamed after Russell in 2009, we were gifted countless moments from Russell and the NBA’s greatest champions, from Bryant to LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.
Russell’s contribution to the game – and the world – ensures that his spirit will live on forever as the individual who will always mean everything to basketball.