The day Kareem Abdul-Jabbar requested his hero Invoice Russell for an autograph

A legendary quartet around the same table. In 2014, Bill Russell, Karim Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird are reunited during the filming of an AT&T ad.

The first was then 80 years old, the second 67. The atmosphere among these basketball tenors was so good that day that “KAJ” thought it was the right time to act. And fulfill a very dear and old personal wish: to obtain the autograph of the legend of the Celts. He’s had that in mind… for over 50 years.

Bill Russell is there, sitting, drinking his coffee, between takes. A smiling “KAJ” approaches him without him suspecting anything. ” Hi Bill. I was wondering if you could do me a favor. “The ex-Lakers player planned it all: he takes a felt hat and a Celtics shirt. Number 6.” Can you give me an autograph? The octogenarian looks at the other for a long time and then signs the shirt. ” Thanks. » « You’re welcome my little one “, retorts the man with 11 championship titles.

He’s kept calling me little since our first date, when I was fourteen. I think it was his affectionate way of reminding me that he was there first and that I would always walk in his giant strides. “, develops Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a text written in honor of the Hall of Fame, who passed away on July 31. Write a few lines on Twitter to greet ” [s]our friend, [s]we mentor, [s]we model it was not enough. “KAJ” meant more about her closeness to Bill. The man who gave you I learned to be bigger, as a player and as a man “.

a cold first date

The first meeting, therefore, dates from 1961. At 27, the Celtics player is only halfway through his career and his dominance of the league. The Celtics, who have just scored their hat-trick, train that day at the gym at Power Memorial High School, an establishment frequented by Lewis Alcindor Jr.. NBA teams come to work there because the room is located near Madison Square Garden.

Entering the gym, I saw Bill Russell sitting casually in the bleachers reading The New York Times. The Secretary of Defense himself. my personal hero “recalls Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His coach at the time, Jack Donahue, talks to Red Auerbach, who will also return to the pantheon with the Celtics. the first question lew to get closer. ” Hey Bill, come here. I want you to see this boy “, continues Red Auerbach.

Bill Russell lowered the paper and frowned at me. Then he growled, ‘I’m not going to get up just to see a child.’ “The kid in question, who doesn’t know where else to stay and wants to run for refuge at home, still has a considerable argument to make: from his height of 2.13 meters, he’s already taller than the Celtics giant! ” Don’t let it get to you, boy. Sometimes he can be a real grumpy “, tries to reassure Red Auerbach by pulling the young man by the wrist to meet the NBA player. ” Bill, be kind. He’s the boy who could be the next Bill Russell. »

Your childhood hero

Despite the politeness and shyness shown by Lewis Alcindor Jr, Celtic won’t smile or be particularly friendly. That’s how the one who will also be called to dominate the rackets of the NBA met his ” childhood hero “.

They say you should never meet your heroes. Which is often disappointing or discouraging. But that was not my experience. I was delighted. He spoke to me. And I thought I saw in his eyes the recognition of someone like him who had a deep, intense, radiant passion for the game. Or maybe that’s what I wanted to see. Anyway, it made me try to be more like him. »

As he describes in detail in his text, Bill Russell, whom “KAJ” tried to make laugh in interview after interview, first inspired him on the court. ” I continued to study Bill Russell as Oppenheimer studied Einstein “, he formulates, stopping unsurprisingly at his common dominance on defense.

The Cleveland Summit

This inspiration thus surpassed the limits of the field. ” I always knew I wanted to be active in the field of civil rights, but I didn’t always know how to do it. “, says the man with 19 All-Star selections who resembles the “Cleveland Summit”, the gathering of a group of black athletes, organized in 1967 in Cleveland, around Mohamed Ali who refused to be drafted into the US Army.

Bill was the most famous member of the summit, besides Jim Brown (note: American football player) and Ali, but he never tried to use him to influence the rest of us. His approach was logical and unbiased, encouraging us to listen with an open mind to what Ali had to say. It was a great lesson in humility and leadership that guided me for many years. Cleveland’s top Bill Russell was what I wanted to be when I grew up, the one who made me grow up in that very moment. “, says Karrem Abdul-Jabbar.

He ends: Years later, when some in the press tried to portray me as simply an angry black man, I tried to follow Bill’s rational example, stay calm and join the fight by advocating specific solutions, rather than getting angry and clenching my fist. Although, sometimes, frustrations demand a good punch. As Bill taught me, you have to get back to the real work that really brings change. »

Leave a Comment