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Bill Russell to get statue in Boston

Posted by Julian Benbow, Globe Staff  May 4, 2011 02:00 PM

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russell.jpg The Celtics have announced plans to honor Hall of Famer Bill Russell with a statue in commemoration of his remarkable legacy on and off the basketball court.

Russell, a supreme defensive player and rebounder who brought 11 NBA titles to Boston from 1956 to 1969, is praised in the press release by the Celtics announcing the honor as "the greatest champion in the history of professional sports, as a national leader in human rights, and as a dedicated advocate for youth mentoring."

The project will be funded by the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation in partnership with the newly formed Bill Russell Legacy Committee. The statue will be designed by a local artist.

“I am uncomfortable with honors such as this but my years as captain of the Boston Celtics were the proudest moments of my career,” Russell said via the release. “Mayor [Thomas] Menino’s Boston has proven to be a city that embraces the diverse contributions of all its people and neighborhoods. I am thankful to the Celtics and all the contributors for the effort to create such a wonderful mentoring program.”

Considered one of the greatest basketball players of all time, as well as one of the game's most dominant defenders, Russell, a five-time MVP, won more championships than anyone in NBA history, anchoring teams led by Red Auerbach, his coach and close friend.

Off the court, Russell was respected for using his fame to raise awareness during the civil rights movement. Racial tension in Boston led to a difficult relationship between Russell and the city, which he once called "a flea market of racism." However in recent years, Russell's opinion changed and in 2004, he told Mayor Thomas M. Menino that the city had become "much more tolerant and diverse."

Russell was the NBA's first black head coach and he was also the center on the first all-black starting lineup.

There has been a long-standing conversation about how to honor Russell, one of the prominent figures in Boston sports history. Many of Boston's sports legends, including Bobby Orr, Ted Williams, Red Auerbach, Doug Flutie and Harry Agganis, all have statues.

“We are honored to play a role in paying tribute to such an extraordinary athlete, leader and legacy,” said Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca, who is the president of the Shamrock Foundation “Bill Russell will forever be remembered in Boston, and it’s fitting that the ultimate benefactors of his legacy will be future generations of our beloved city’s youth.”

Russell was awarded the Medal of Freedom in February by President Barack Obama, who made it known that he too thought Russell should be recognized.

"I hope that one day in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man," Obama said.

The Bill Russell Mentoring Grant Program will invest in Boston’s youth by awarding grants annually to local, non-profit, organizations to help increase the number of children in Boston who have access to quality, structured, caring adult mentoring programs.

To donate to the Bill Russell Legacy Fund and for more information on the project and grant applications, visit www.billrusselllegacy.org.

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