SAN FRANCISCO – Inasmuch as his high school sits five miles east of Chase Center and his college five miles to the west, there will on Saturday be a few precious moments of geographic symmetry for Bill Russell.
The Bay Area was home during Russell’s formative years, and the Warriors will make it so for eternity.
Shortly before the 5:30 p.m. tipoff against the Boston Celtics, the franchise with whom Russell spent his 13-year playing career, the Warriors will hoist his No. 6 jersey into the rafters. The number will be forever retired by every team in the NBA, but this one is unique.
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“His number is being retired around the NBA, but the significance here is that Bill was from Oakland, played high school ball there, and played at USF. He made such an impact on the Bay Area that it feels more special here than it would in any other city, other than Boston.”
When Russell died in July at age 88, he left behind a large contingent of family and friends from the Bay Area – some of whom date to his childhood in Oakland following World War II.
Russell’s daughter, attorney Karen Kenyatta Russell, will share a few thoughts during the pregame ceremony, as will former Warriors COO Rick Welts, whose friendship with Russell spanned nearly 50 years.
Tom Meschery, who as a member of the Warriors in the 1960s and ‘70s competed against – usually in vain – Russell’s Celtics, also is scheduled to share his memories.
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The Russell family moved from Louisiana to Oakland in the early 1940s, when Bill was in elementary school. In the years that followed, he met numerous local figures – George Powles and Bill Patterson to name two – who influenced his path from Oakland playgrounds to McClymonds High School in West Oakland to the University of San Francisco.
Even after becoming an NBA star in Boston, Russell remained loyal to the Bay, keeping among his closest friends baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and former Oakland Raiders star Clem Daniels. Until the mid-2000s, Russell made trips to Oakland to participate in the annual Coors-Peoples pro-am golf tournament organized by another friend, Charlie Peoples Sr.
Russell also returned to McClymonds High several times in retirement (which is where I first met him).
“We’re very proud of the legacy that Bill Russell left here in the Bay and across the NBA,” Kerr said.
If Bill Russell’s contribution to society was limited to basketball, only the most substantial NBA career ever – 11 championship rings, five MVP awards, NBA Finals MVP in his name, first Black head coach of a major sport in post-integration America – he would be worthy of being the only player whose number is retired by the league. But there is so much more.
Russell was such a devoted civil rights activist he was subjected to a denigrative FBI file. He participated in the 1963 March on Washington, where he sat in the front row during Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Russell in 2010 was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced in August, 11 days after Russell died, that his jersey would be retired across the entire league.
The Bay gets its turn on Saturday.