He was also a prominent civil rights activist, marching alongside Martin Luther King Jr. during the “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, denouncing racial segregation and supporting Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be drafted into the war of Viet Nam.
“I became a role model when I realized that some of the things that scared me and bothered me about race relations in America were things that I addressed,” Abdul-Jabbar, the top scorer of NBA All-Time, to CNN’s Don Lemon.
“He gave me a way to talk about it that had all the elements to try to make something better, rather than just being angry.
“He really helped me define that in my life and make more appropriate choices to achieve positive change rather than just venting your anger. He was exactly the person whose example should be followed in this area. “
Abdul-Jabbar first met Russell when he was 14 when he was a freshman at Power Memorial High School in New York. The pair went on to form a 60-year friendship, during which Russell inspired Abdul-Jabbar as a player and activist.
In the late 1950s, Russell accused the predominantly white NBA of deliberately excluding black players, even though he was also part of the league’s first all-black starting roster in 1964.
“He inspired me to be a better man by handling situations…without giving in to all the anger and rage he must have felt,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
“He handled it in a way that really put people to shame who had tried to tell him to find the door and leave the Celtics. He kept winning, the Celtics kept winning. And they kept winning. do it with a number of black athletes.”
The former Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers star added that Russell was a “proud banner bearer for black athletes”, who “never shamed any of us or didn’t felt proud”.
Russell’s 11 championship victories with the Celtics, including eight consecutive titles between 1959 and 1966; he was named NBA MVP five times and NBA All-Star 12 times, including his final two years as player-coach for the Celtics in 1968 and 1969.
“The vandalism that Bill was subjected to was just an expression of the anger of people who felt he shouldn’t be given the opportunity to succeed like he was as an athlete,” Abdul said. -Jabbar.
“They resented him for his success and they wanted to show him that he had a place in society that they didn’t respect and that they were going to put him in his place.
“But Bill was bigger than that and Bill just kept his head up and kept going. The Celtics kept winning world championships and Bill showed the world what class was.”