Basketball’s Bill Russell

Boston Celtics

Bill RussellIn basketball, Bill Russell was the Greatest Of All Time. More than MJ or Magic or Kobe or Lebron. The center led the University of San Francisco to back-to-back national championships and captained the US team that won the Olympic gold medal at the 1956 Games.

He won 11 NBA championships in 13 seasons, eight straight between the 1958-59 and 1965-66 seasons with the Boston Celtics. Two of those titles were as player-coach; Russell was the first black coach in ANY major U.S. professional sport. A five-time NBA MVP and 12-time All-Star, he’s also the greatest sports figure in the Boston market, greater than Tom Brady in football and even the great Bobby Orr in hockey. He joined the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1975 and as a coach in 2021.

Bill Russell started playing when being a black player in eastern Massachusetts was difficult. In an interview for CBS in 2021, he acknowledged not enjoying playing in Boston. The Boston Herald newspaper, reporting a game in which he got a triple-double (25 points, 20 rebounds, 10 blocked shots), merely noted that he was fortunate to be playing with Bob Cousy.

Cousy, now 94, said: Russell “fought the good fight, obviously, on the floor, but he fought the good fight off the floor, fighting racism all his life. Sticking his tongue out at the opponent. That’s not easy to do. People give up things to take a stand, and Russell simply never cared… Russell just let it flow.”

Facing bigotry

From the Boston Globe: “In a 1987 essay, [his] daughter… wrote that her father had faced ‘the worst kind of unbridled bigotry’ from Boston fans and sportswriters, and detailed racist attacks the Russell family was subjected to while living in Massachusetts…

“In the essay titled ‘Growing Up with Privilege and Prejudice,’… Karen Russell described how her father sought to separate his feelings about playing basketball for the Celtics and playing for the city of Boston. She detailed the racist vandalism the Russell family’s Reading home faced once when they were out of town and listed the racist abuse Bill Russell endured from fans.”

The Monroe, Louisiana native who grew up in Oakland, CA, was at the 1963 March on Washington, spoke out about bigotry, and backed Muhammad Ali when he refused to fight in Vietnam.

He was frenemies with Wilt Chamberlain, the Philadelphia 76ers center. Russell was a lousy house guest. Wilt: “Bill would come to my house on Thanksgiving night because we had Philly vs. Boston the next night. He would sleep in my bed and take some food, and he would go out there and whip my butt.”

“Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect, and inclusion that stamped into the DNA of our league,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. I saw Bill Russell at the IBM Country Club in Endicott, NY, at an exhibition game between the Celtics and the 76ers in the mid-1960s. Even though he wasn’t the tallest player, his presence was gigantic. Bill Rusell was 88.

Chuck Connors would have been 100

Celtics, Cubs

Chuck Connors.baseballIt could have been in TV Guide or another magazine, or a newspaper article. All I know is that, during the run of the TV show The Rifleman (1958-1963), I knew that Chuck Connors had been a professional athlete before he became an actor.

He played basketball with the Boston Celtics. In 1946, Kevin Joseph Aloysius Connors was the first NBA player to shatter a backboard, doing so during a pre-game warm-up in the Boston Garden.

The future actor also played baseball. Before the 1940 season, he was signed by his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent. Though somewhat successful in the minor leagues, he got into only one game with that major league team, in 1949.

On October 10, 1950, he was traded, with Dee Fondy, to the Chicago Cubs for Hank Edwards and cash. He spent part of the 1951 season with the Cubs, appearing in 66 games, 57 of them as a first baseman, batting .239.

“In a 1997 biography titled ‘The Man Behind the Rifle’, author David Fury says that ‘Chuck”‘Connors acquired his nickname while an athlete playing first base. He had a habit of calling to the pitcher: “Chuck it to me, baby, chuck it to me!”

North Fork

His IMDB record begins in 1952. But he’s best known for playing Lucas McCain in 168 episodes of The Rifleman. The Complete Directory To Prime Time Network TV Shows, by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, have a great description of the show.

“The setting was the town of North Fork, NM, whose marshall seemed incapable of handling any of the numerous desperadoes who infested the series without Lucas.” I’m sure I watched it a lot in the day, and it’s still available on MeTV.

Lucas McCain was ranked #32 in TV Guide’s list of the “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time” in the 20 June 2004 issue. He raised Mark (Johnny Crawford) by himself.

Chuck spent a season on Arrest and Trial, a cop show with Ben Gazzara, which I don’t remember.

Bitter Creek

Connors was on another western, Branded (1965-1966). “Jason McCord, the only survivor of the Battle of Bitter Creek, is court-martialed and kicked out of the Army because of his alleged cowardice. Rather than demean the good name of the Army commander who was actually to blame for the massacre, McCord travels the Old West trying to restore his good name and reputation.

And my sisters and I would reenact the  opening theme, which I can hear in my mind’s ear to this day:

“All but one man died, There at Bitter Creek. And they say he ran away. Branded! Marked with a coward’s shame. What do you do when you’re branded, will you fight for your name?

“He was innocent. Not a charge was true. But the world would never know. Branded! Scorned as the one who ran. What do you do when you’re branded, and you know you’re a man?

“Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you must prove… You’re a man.”

And in the intro, the officer would break McCord’s sword over his knee. We would take a thin tree branch and break it in the same way. Or more often, take this paper covering that came with the dry cleaning and tear it.

Oddly, I don’t remember the show itself very much.


Here’s some trivia. “He suffered almost the same fate in each of his two television western series. In The Rifleman: The Vaqueros (1961), he was stripped to the waist, tied to a tree, and left to die under a scorching sun by a group of Mexican bandits. And in Branded: Fill No Glass for Me: Part 2 (1965), he was stripped to the waist, tied to a tree, and left to die under a scorching sun by a group of Indian warriors. (In both cases he survived.)”

I didn’t see him much after that, except in an occasional guest appearance, and two episodes of Roots. No, I did NOT see Werewolf.

Chuck Connors was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1991.

Born: April 10, 1921, in Brooklyn, New York City, NY
Died: November 10, 1992 (age 71) in Los Angeles, CA

A Solstice Tradition Continues: Ask Roger ANYTHING!

It is once again time for the operator of this blog to hand over the keys, so to speak when you ask him anything you want. And he HAS to answer. Now he may answer with obfuscation, but he cannot outright lie.

Here are some examples:
What is my favorite song performed by one artist, made more popular by a subsequent artist, but the version I prefer is by the former? (Got that?)

The answer: I Heard It Through the Grapevine, a big, #2 hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips, only to be trumped by Marvin Gaye’s much slower, much more successful, take. In part, I felt bad for the Pips when they would go on the road and people would ask them, “Why are you doing that Marvin Gaye song?”, which had to be irritating to GK&P, enough so that they left Motown at their first opportunity. Moreover, the resurrection of Gaye’s version during the Big Chill movie’s popularity made it become actually irritating to me for a time.

(Rather how I feel about the once perfectly fine Brown-Eyed Girl by Van Morrison, and other songs I hear too often.) But tell me: in this version, can YOU only really hear Marvin’s vocal, as I do? THIS is really cool.

Who was I rooting for in the NBA playoffs?

Actually, I don’t really follow the NBA all that much. That said, I started tiring of hearing about the “inevitable” Cleveland/LA Lakers finals, so I ended up rooting for the Boston Celtics, pretty much as a reaction to the pundits.

Post your questions in the comments, or e-mail me. I’ll use your name unless you specifically request otherwise. Of course, if you don’t leave your name, my chances of being snarky are DRAMATICALLY increased. Sooner, rather than later, I’ll answer your questions in this blog.

Oh, yeah, and since a question (of five words or more) is considered a comment, you’ll also get an entry in my GIVEAWAY; see sidebar for details.

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