Those who know me well might describe me as a huge NBA basketball nerd. Ever since we moved to a town large enough to get cable TV, I started watching the sport and fell in love. The team dynamics, the ball movement, the pace of the game, the story arc of the season(s), the player personalities, the relationships between teammates and rivals, the coaches, the activism, the All-Star Weekend, literally all of it. It is my jam.
Of course it didn’t hurt that my state’s one and only professional sports team is the Portland Trailblazers. The Blazers are a consistently plucky bunch, if not always the most talented or successful team to follow. After being created in the expansion of the league in 1970, we won our first and only championship in 1977, the year of my birth. We had a few more really good opportunities in the early ’90s, which only solidified my fandom, but alas, all the Blazer fans are still waiting for our next chance to break out in the playoffs.
But I digress… One of the best parts of the NBA is the history and the legacy the great players leave behind when they retire. Some go into coaching and many others can be seen regularly as broadcasters. Others have even become team executives and owners, making the business decisions of running some of the current teams. A great number of past players can be seen and heard from in a variety of ways, even late into their lives. The NBA creates a family of former players and many of them remain in the fold for decades.
We lost one of the greats this weekend, Bill Russell, at age 88. He played WAY before my time watching, but I still felt like I knew him. I never saw him play for the Boston Celtics in the ’50’s and ’60’s, but he was regularly seen on the sideline in the front row at the All-Star Weekend festivities. His 6’9″ frame, gorgeous silver hair and beard and enormous smile were hard to miss. I grew to love his presence on the sideline; the man exuded joy to me, even at (or perhaps because of) his advanced age. I’ve never really been a Celtics fan for a number of reasons, but Bill Russell is undoubtedly part of what made their team as dynastic as they are today.
But last year, I didn’t see him on the sidelines at the All-Star Game and had the thought that he might not be around much longer. Sadly, last weekend, I was proven right. After 88 years full of wholehearted living, as a player, a coach, an author and a civil rights activist, Bill Russell passed away yesterday. Rest in power, sir.