The Greatness of Basketball Legend Bill Russell

Bill Russell was an ambassador of goodwill in any city. But as a resident of the City of Goodwill, Russell represented the best of Seattle. He was an advocate for the city, championing the NBA’s return to the city. And yet the work goes on, as it must, because Seattle does not have an NBA franchise.

As to the nature of my remarks, by way of prefacing the above and providing context for what follows, this column is in response to a presentation a friend shared with me.

The presentation illustrates what Seattle can do for the NBA, while the illustrations themselves—the renderings of a multipurpose arena and of an area alive with tourism and trade—speak to Russell’s vision of Seattle.

Thanks to the one executive with whom I spoke, or rather thanks to the one executive who spoke to me on the record and was part of the team responsible for the presentation, I now know how instrumental Russell was in making the case for Seattle.

Thanks to Nick Chini, Managing Director of Bainbridge, the world knows more about Russell’s connection to Seattle.

Chini says:

Bill Russell was not only a team captain, but a captain of industriousness. He was also a captain for industry, in terms of jobs and opportunity, because he knew what Seattle could do for the NBA. If the NBA returns to Seattle, Russell deserves more than partial or posthumous credit. His example endures, his leadership lives, and his name will never die.

I second Chini’s words, for the measure of a man of Russell’s stature—the measure of an Olympian with Russell’s height—is incalculable.

The memory of Russell stands taller than any statue.

Honoring his name with works is, however, a tribute to the totality of his work.

I say this because I do not live in Seattle, and to the extent that I follow sports I live to root against the Mariners and Seahawks, which makes me the opposite of a shill for the city or its sports teams.

I say this because I admire the life of Bill Russell and the things that define his life’s work, from his humanity—his humaneness—to his pursuit of justice.

For example, many athletes do not give autographs.

But an athlete who talks to an autograph seeker instead, who invites an autograph seeker to talk with him instead, when the athlete is Bill Russell, the autograph seeker gets a signature of a different king.

The person who has this particular autograph, the invitee who can attest to having spent time with Russell in conversation, this person—the fan with a time stamp on a moment like no other—continues Russell’s legacy.

The NBA has the power to be true to Russell’s legacy too, celebrating his name with a homecoming that returns a team to Seattle.

The NBA has no reason not to return to Seattle, given the size of the city and the city’s history with the NBA.

Based on the presentation to the NBA, and because of Russell’s support for what the presentation contains, his presence remains.

The feeling that he is with us, the realness of the ethereal—the reality of the spirit of this man—is profound.

Let us salute Bill Russell, acknowledging his greatness and accepting the responsibility greatness entails.

Let the NBA return to Seattle.