Younger Statues Will Rise (Almost) to Bill Russell’s Height

New additions to the Bill Russell Legacy Project will prove that champions come in all sizes.

bill russell statue

Photo provided

Many Bostonians already know well the legend of Celtic great Bill Russell, and for the past year many have visited the larger-than-life statue of Russell now standing at City Hall Plaza that celebrates his legacy on and off the court.

Currently, the bronze statue stands among 10 granite blocks, or plinths, that pay tribute to the championships Russell brought to Boston. Russell won 11 championships in 13 years. Each granite block represents a championship, with Russell’s statue signifying number 11.

Visitors can step up on the granite blocks—which have quotes and represent concepts such as education, community, and teamwork—adjacent to Russell’s statue and “receive” a pass from the basketball star who has a basketball fixed in his grip. But while his basketball exploits are well represented by the monument, there are still two elements missing that will soon round out the Bill Russell Legacy Project.

This spring, two statues will be added to further commemorate and represent Russell’s mission of mentorship. To complete the overall design, artist Ann Hirsch will install statues of a 16-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy on two of the granite blocks.

Heather Walker, senior PR director for the Celtics, noted that Russell remains committed to the cause of helping young people, “‘There is no such thing as other people’s children,’ Bill says. He is a longtime, passionate supporter of mentoring programs and an active board member of the National Mentoring Partnership.”

“Bill credits his mentor and high school coach, who sent him to the Boys and Girls Club to keep him off the streets, for his success on and off the court,” Walker wrote in an email.

Hirsch said that mentorship played an important role in her own life, which prompted her to mentor students during the design process. A group of girls from Dorchester—from the Grove Hall Community Center, run through Project Rebuild and Improve Grove Hall Together (R.I.G.H.T), and from the Lilla Fredericks Pilot Middle School—worked with Hirsch on the design concept for the girl statue. The students will also help lay clay, as well as watch as the statue is cast in bronze.

“They came out and stood on the plinths and helped me create the look and stance of the girl,” Hirsch said. “We thought about how this girl would present herself to the world.”

The group decided that the girl statue should have her arms at her side, chest up, and head held high—ready to take on the world with confidence, Hirsch said. The statue will be slightly larger than the average teenage girl and will stand on the plinth labeled “RESOLVE.” It is graced with a related quote from Russell: “Never go out there to see what happens; go out there to make something happen.”

The statue of the boy will also be slightly larger than the average nine-year-old. The figure will be climbing up onto the “REBOUNDING” plinth, accompanied by another Russell quote: “Rebounding is about developing the highest level of resilience by changing the flow of the game from reaction to action.”

Other local children have also been involved in the artistic process. Hirsch said a brother and sister from Somerville, who are around the same ages as the planned statues, were invited to help with the design and modeling process. The young boy did a lot of staging and helped Hirsch decide on the stature of the figures.

“The boy is in a different, [more] active pose,” Hirsch said of the planned statues. “He is getting up onto a block. He’s striving to become a champion.”

People should not read too much into where the new statues are specifically located within the exhibit, Hirsch said. They are supposed to feel “fluid.” Just like the people who are visiting, the statues are exploring, too, the artist suggested.

“The granite blocks invite visitors to become part of the artwork,” said Karin Goodfellow, director of Boston Public Art. “They can stand on the plinths and take photos.”

The Bill Russell Legacy Project has numerous donors and supporters. One of whom is former Mayor Tom Menino, who helped add the artwork to the city’s landscape and hopes for its expansion.

When the project was first being discussed, Hirsch noted, Mayor Menino said he wanted City Hall Plaza to one day be a “plaza of champions.”

“Bill Russell is certainly the first,” she said. “The two new statues show that, through mentoring, kids are on their way.”