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Statue of Bill Russell to grace Boston City Hall Plaza in 2012, mayor says

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff  July 11, 2011 10:18 AM

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The statue honoring Boston Celtics center Bill Russell will be installed in City Hall Plaza, Mayor Menino announced today.

Three artists will be competing for the right to design the statute for Russell, who was one of the Celtics’ all-time great players and a widely respected civil rights activist.

The artists are Fern Cunningham, Ann Hirsch, and Antonio Tobias Mendez.

The winning design will be unveiled in spring 2012. Menino, who has pushed to relocate City Hall to South Boston, said renovations will be made to the plaza to coincide with the statue’s installation.

Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca said Russell was a role model for the young, and a mentor as well. “He always found the time to take a youngster aside,’’ he said. “He was an individual who went out of his way to work with young children.”

Private fund-raising continues through the summer and public fund-raising starts this fall, when a winning design from one of the three artists is selected. More information about the campaign for Russell’s statue can be found here.

Russell led the Celtics to 11 world championships during his 13 seasons.

The move to honor Russell, one of the city’s most respected athletes, gained steam in February when President Obama awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The president asked why Boston, which already has a statue for Celtics coach Red Auerbach, did not have one honoring Russell. “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 at the time.

Statues of sports figures sprinkled around Greater Boston include one of Red Sox great Ted Williams outside Gate B at Fenway Park, Bruins star Bobby Orr’s image is at TD Garden, and Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie in his famous “Hail Flutie” pass stands outside Conte Forum.

Russell’s basketball success -- in 1964, Russell was part of the NBA’s first all-black starting five, along with Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Willie Naulls, and Tom “Satch” Sanders -- was matched by his leadership off the court.

He was at the National Mall in Washington in 1963 for the Rev. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the Globe reported earlier this year. Russell refused to play in games held in cities where his teammates faced discrimination, and he became the first black coach in the NBA when he took over the Celtics in 1966.

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