Russ, with rings.
You live long enough, you get to see something like this, a fellow former Seattle Times columnist win the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Bill Russell receives that honor today from Barack Obama. The Mercer Islander will be on the stage with an eclectic panel of recipients, including Maya Angelou, George H.W. Bush, Stan Musial, Warren Buffett, Yo-Yo Ma, and others. It's not because of something he wrote, although he was adept at pissing off Times readers from 1979 through the early '80s, throwing punches over the incivility and racism of America. Russell, we understand, did a few other things in his 77 years.
Russ, with rings.
But he was hardly loved by all. As Wikipedia notes:
To teammates and friends, Russell was open and amicable, but was extremely distrusting and cold towards anyone else. Journalists were often treated to the "Russell Glower," described as an "icily contemptuous stare accompanied by a long silence." Russell was also notorious for his refusal to give autographs or even acknowledge Celtics fans, so far that he was called "the most selfish, surly and uncooperative athlete" by one pundit.
Then again, he was angry, and he could tell you why. After he was named Boston's coach, he appeared at a press conference where "probably the second or third question one of the Boston reporters asked me [was], 'Can you coach the white guys without being prejudiced?' Now, I didn't recall anybody asking a white coach if he could coach the black guys without being prejudiced. All I said was, 'Yeah.' "
Daughter Karen Russell, who is a corporate diversity and employment lawyer at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle,told the New York Times that she had to almost talk Russell into accepting the Presidential medal. "I said, 'You were part of this team, like John Lewis and Maya Angelou, some of the medal winners.' Weren't they the predicate in a way for Obama? Before Oprah. He was the first black coach in major sports; people saw someone like him."
Even so, Russell said that as personal honors go in his life, the medal is only a close second. The first? Being raised by Charlie Russell.
"When he was about 77, my father and I were talking," Russell recalled. "And 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."