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.

WITH A NEW CELTICS SEASON under way, it’s remarkable to think about the change that has taken place in the four decades since Russell retired, when there was still talk of roster quotas, and when he was asked if, as a “Negro coach” — the first in the league, by the way — he could be fair to his white players. Every meaningful player on this year’s Celtics team is black. Rivers, who is African American, is generally regarded as one of the best leaders in his field, unburdened with the usual coded racial qualifiers like “player’s coach.” In Rajon Rondo, the Celtics have a black athlete who is poised to become Boston’s next signature star.

These are milestones made all the more striking by their normalcy. But there is a legacy attached, and the legacy belongs to Russell, the Celtics, and the city of Boston.

So I presented the statue idea to Celtics co-owner Steve Pagliuca in late August. Russell needs a statue, I told him. He was intrigued but wanted time to talk with the other owners. The team is a partnership and its policy is to speak with one voice. Fair enough.

A few weeks later, the team sent me a statement:

“Bill Russell is one of the greatest basketball players and Celtics of all time, and perhaps the greatest winner in the history of team sports. Creating a permanent tribute to Bill is something that we have discussed internally and would like to pursue over the course of the upcoming season.”

There are still hurdles to clear. No doubt private funds will have to be raised, as was the case with Orr’s statue. Delaware North, the company that owns the Garden and the Bruins, would have to be onboard. But relations between the two teams are said to be strong these days, and the mayor’s office told me they would be supportive of the effort.

These are powerful forces aligning. Now let’s give the man his due.


  • 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