Jerry West: Bill Russell, a difference maker like Jackie Robinson

Los Angeles booed him. Los Angeles laughed at him. Los Angeles hated him.

But, my God, how much Los Angeles respected him.

ace player Bill Russell was the 6-foot-10 stab through the lakers heart, leading the Boston Celtics to seven NBA Finals victories against the franchise, the greatest enemy in their history.

As a human being, however, he had far more impact, spending his life fighting racism, pushing for justice, engaging in battles far bigger than a basketball game.

In his later years, during his occasional visits to what was then the Staples Center, Russell would receive a most unique reaction when shown on the video board.

A standing ovation.

It was the only time a Boston Celtic would be cheered on the Lakers home turf, but Bill Russell was so big, strong and tough.

He died Sunday at age 88 leaves the basketball world with a legacy that cannot be replaced.

“One of our darkest days”, they said jerry west in a phone interview on Sunday. “He was one of those unique people who comes forward as a difference maker when a difference maker is needed.”

Most polls rank Russell as the sixth best player in NBA history, but most polls are crazy because no one has wielded greater influence, no one has overcome greater odds, and no one was a greater champion.

Lakers legend Jerry West chats with Celtics great Bill Russell next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Lakers legend Jerry West, center, chats with Celtics great Bill Russell, right, seated next to NBA all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the 2018 NBA All-Star Game at the Staples Center.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

His 11 NBA titles make him the most decorated American athlete in major professional sports history. His countless blocked shots and career average of 22.5 rebounds — think of that number! — makes him arguably the greatest defenseman in NBA history.

Far more important than all of that was social activism that will forever make him a reflection of another basketball pioneer.

“In every generation, people make a difference not only with their game, but also with their personality,” West said. “Bill Russell and Jackie Robinson were in the same class.

You’d think West and Russell would be sworn enemies considering The Russell Celtics have beaten the West Lakers in six of those Finals. We would be wrong.

“Bill was not my rival,” West said. “Bill was my friend.”

The pair frequently sat together at NBA events, where they shared laughs, wisdom and respect.

“My friendship with him was such that it’s almost as if I were playing with him rather than against him,” West said. “I’ve been through so much and handled it all so smoothly. I admired him so much as a human being.

The Lakers legend still has a free framed quote from Russell hanging in his bathroom, a statement with the highest honor being the admiration of his peers.

“I watch it every day, and it will stay there forever,” West said.

By leading the Celtics to those 11 championships in 13 seasons from 1957 to 1969, Russell became the NBA’s first black superstar, but he paid the price.

He was never adopted like Celtics white stars such as Bob Cousy and John Havlicek. His suburban Boston man has already been trashed and defaced with spray-painted racial slurs after being honored there.

“A poisonous atmosphere hovers over this city,” he once said. “It’s an atmosphere of hatred, distrust and ignorance.”

He refused to sign autographs because he didn’t want to be a role model for a society that didn’t accept him, and he once led teammates in boycotting an exhibition game when their hotel in Kentucky refused to serve black players. Thus, the FBI opened a file on him in which he is called “An arrogant nigger”.

In 1966, while still playing, he was also named coach of the Celtics, becoming the first black coach of any team in any major American sport. Yet police still followed him regularly as he walked through his neighborhood in suburban Boston.

“You look at everything he went through in Boston as a black man and you think if he didn’t have the big hit, how would he be treated?” West says.

Russell also felt the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., was a racist institution, so when he became the first black player inducted in 1975, he didn’t show up for the ceremony.

“I don’t care if I ever go back to Boston,” he once said.

Yet he responded with more than anger, he responded with action. A long time ago james lebron and Colin Kaepernick, Russell was risking his career to fight for social justice. I spoke in favor of Mohamed Aliagainst the draft, he held clinics in Mississippi following the assassination of Medgar Evers, and he was the first NBA player to lead clinics in Africa.

“He was born for those times,” West said. “In some ways, what he did off the pitch was amplified more than what he did on the pitch.”

His playing career ended with the Celtics’ victory in the 1969 Finals over the Lakers, but his impact on sport and society continued throughout his life, and in 2011 he was awarded the medal. presidential freedom.

“But despite all the victories, Bill’s understanding of wrestling is what has lit up his life,” his family said in a statement Sunday, later adding, “Bill spoke out against injustice with a ruthless candor that, according to him, would disrupt the status quo, and with a powerful example that, while never his humble intention, will forever inspire teamwork, selflessness, and thoughtful change.

Jerry West will remember only one image – Russell in the middle of one of their classic matchups.

“There’s a photo where he’s standing in the middle of the court with his hands on his hips, he looked very majestic looking over his stronghold,” West said. “I had a real presence. I’ll never forget that.”

As the sports world continues its fight for justice and equality, Bill Russell stands still.