Netflix Takes Stock of a Basketball Immortal's Career
A Quick TV Review
"But the contribution I'd like to make as a person, to my kids and to little Black kids all over the world is to make life better so their ambitions aren't stilted when they face the world."
-Bill Russell, in memoirs reflecting on the platform basketball provided him
Young NBA fans today may not appreciate the difficulties Black players had faced in the league's early days, often mirroring the state of society at the time. Bill Russell takes us through his start in Jim Crow-life in Louisiana to the University of San Francisco, to his career as a Boston Celtic. Throughout, Russell maintained a deep sense of integrity and presence despite multiple and consistent instances of race-based disrespect. Reinforcing that personal stature is the point of Bill Russell, as well as the reason the man is a legend beyond his 11 championship rings.
And that personal stature is why a cavalcade of fellow NBA stars appear in testimony, including fellow Olympians Oscar Robertson and Jerry West (Rome 1960), Bill Bradley (Tokyo 1964), Larry Bird and "Magic" Johnson (Barcelona 1992), Shaquille O'Neal (Atlanta 1996), Steve Smith (Sydney 2000), Chris Paul (Beijing 2008, London 2012), and Jayson Tatum (Tokyo 2020).
Russell's vision of proactive defense and of basketball as art powered his game. And his vision of how to impact a wider public through the game - inspired by life around him - powered that stature. Bill Russell gives him due credit.
A quibble, though...this one Olympic fan would have appreciated more attention to Russell's experience with Team USA at Melbourne 1956 than a too-brief mention...especially considering the gold medal was perhaps his "most prized profession".