Give Bill Russell a Damn Statue!

The greatest (and most complicated) Celtic of them all, may not care one way or the other if his bronzed image goes up outside the Garden. But in a city with a past as complicated as our own, we should.

Russell played for the Celtics, he liked to say, making sure to leave out “Boston.” And when his playing days were over, he relocated to Mercer Island, near Seattle, about as far from the Hub as he could physically get.

There is nothing, not even time itself, that can heal all those wounds. Nor should it. Yet time does allow for growth and change. In recent years, starting with the re-retirement of his number, the public image of Russell has undergone something of a metamorphosis. Gone is the fire-breathing militant, and in its place stands an almost mystical, sagelike figure. These days, Russell expresses himself in a sort of Zen-koan style. “I do not ask for understanding,” he wrote in his latest book, Red and Me. “I have never worked to be understood, or accepted, or liked. So no explanations are necessary. I care only about what you do.” Actually, his message hasn’t changed all that much, but now his words are fawned over rather than condemned. And with Red gone, it’s Russell who is the living embodiment of Celtic mystique.

Excuse the heretical underpinnings, but the Celtics dynasty has evolved into something of a trinity, with Russell as the father, Larry Bird as the son, and Auerbach as the spirit. Consider Russell’s memorable television interview with Kevin Garnett during the 2008 NBA playoffs, when he essentially blessed KG as a true Celtic. “I always said you were my favorite player to watch,” Russell told Garnett, who looked away sheepishly. “And you’ve never disappointed me.”

Again, it’s not entirely clear that Russell himself has changed much. He is still generally regarded as aloof and unwilling to suffer fools. Yet a fuller appreciation of the man has emerged. Consider that second, more public ceremony to retire his number. Mixed with the tributes from teammates and rivals was an air of contrition that settled over the proceedings. It was, in essence, an apology, one that culminated in a fan yelling, “We love you, Bill,” and a choked-up Russell responding, “I love you, too.”

That’s progress. But what must not be forgotten or glossed over is that Russell has never fully made peace with Boston, nor it with him. That fact is a part of history, and what’s more, it’s our history.

Russell doesn’t need a statue for pride, ego, or validation. When I reached out to Karen, his daughter, she politely declined the invitation for an interview, offering, “Good luck with your piece.” This isn’t about Russell, or even the Celtics, although they are the caretakers of their history. This is about us.

The city of Boston has been known to get defensive about the old days. “We’re past that” is the operative phrase. Well, if that’s true, what better way to show it than by embracing this complex, fascinating, and proud man in some tangible way?


  • Pat

    There’s a statue of Red Auerbach, too, on a bench between buildings in Quincy Market.

  • Jas

    It’s (over)due. How can each of us help get him the statue?

  • Paul

    I started watching baskeball in 1969, the first game I watched on TV, in black and white, was the Celtics. I fell in love with Bill and the Celtics. I have been a fan ever since. Give him a statue!!!

  • chuck

    You guys are a city full of insufferable sports fans and unapologetic racists. No one is surprised Bill Russell doesn’t have a statue.

  • Charles OFD

    I 100% agree, however who chose the statue depicted in your article? It would support Bill’s position that we did not appreciate the Man. That’s a fine statue for Cousy, but a statue of Mr. Russell should depict his Determination to rise above his opponents and reject their offerings. The 3 D’s Desire Determination & Defense. A superb Warrior !

  • jang

    How many people can you fit inside of a LeBron James love triangle?

  • Doug

    For those of us who follow all team Sports in Boston, Bill is one of the Greatest NBA Players of his time and for the city of Boston. Ted was for Boston’s MLB Red Sox, Bobby for Boston’s NHL Bruins and Red for the Celtics as the Grandfather with Bill as the Father of the Celtics. No Combo of two people in any sport is so deserving. So now it’s Mr Russell’s time!
    Get it done Please!!!!

  • Doug

    Mr. Flannery –
    What is the best way to reach you directly? I am one of the originators of the Facebook group promoting a statue for Russell and I have some info for you.

  • Aaron

    I really can’t see what the argument against this is.

  • Dominick R Nicotera

    I am not a millionaire or I would be a factor in recognizing Bill Russell not only as a great Celtic but a great thinker. I always loved the Celtics and his style, selflessness, comments and humility have always impressed me. It is what youth need today and what is too often lost or avoided by professional athletes. I am a professional mental health practitioner, at a college and in private practice. I would value Bill Russell’s presence to get a message across to our students. I wish that I can just have him speak to our student body at our college one time. If there is a way to make it happen I would work on it. In my books, he is a great athlete, but most important he is a man, a role model and has insight to share.
    Thank You Bill
    Dominick R Nicotera