MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Everyone who follows basketball – and many who don’t – are remembering the life and legacy of NBA legend Bill Russell, who died Sunday at the age of 88.
Longtime fans know about Russell’s 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons. You also may know that he was first Black NBA head coach and leading advocate for civil and human rights. But what you may not know is Russell’s connections to Memphis.
They began when Russell was a starting center for the Boston Celtics. For two seasons in the mid-1960s, the then-St. Louis Hawks played several of their home games in Memphis at the new Mid-South Coliseum. Russell and the Celtics played the Hawks there twice – on March 7th, 1966, which ended with a two-Celtics win – and on March 13th, 1967, when the Celtics lost to the Hawks by a single point.
But it was one iconic moment on January 20th, 2003, at the Pyramid that perhaps endeared Russell to Memphis forever. That day marked the first ever Grizzlies MLK game, and Russell was among those honored. But instead of walking out by himself, Russell pushed to center court the wheelchair carrying another honoree – beloved Memphis Tigers legend Larry Finch. And the near sellout crowd erupted in a thunderous standing ovation.
In his playing days, Number 6 was a dominant rebounder and defender. But that day at the Pyramid, William Felton Russell made the most memorable assist in Memphis history.