All sports are a mixture of art and war. It is possible to change the mixture of art and war in any sport by changing sacred rules. With all war, like elements removed, the sport soon became a form of dance – more of a ballet than a brawl. When we see Julius “Dr. J” Irving fly through the air, his back arched, his arms stretched, we’d say, “That was a beautiful move,” in the same way a painting is beautiful. The form inspires wonder and the motion has something to say.” These are the poetic words of the late NBA Legend Bill Russell.
Bill Russell: Legend, a new documentary on Netflix, illuminates the ways Russell stood tall in every sense of the word. Director Sam Pollard captures the remarkable life and legacy of an NBA superstar and civil rights icon in a two-part documentary series featuring the last interview with Russell prior to his passing in 2022.
On the court, he led each and every one of his basketball teams to championships — two back-to-back NCAA titles, a gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and 11 championship titles in his thirteen-year career as a Boston Celtic (his last two as the first Black head coach in NBA history).
Off the court, he fought for human rights, marched with Dr. King and led boycotts in the NBA over racist practices and speaking out against segregation efforts, all of which earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This giant of a man never wavered in his defiant quest for equality in a sport throughout most of his career refused to garner him the same respect and dignity.
Culminating Russell’s own words, archival footage and riveting interviews with team mates, friends and family, audiences grab a peek into the blatant racism dealt with off the court and his friendship/rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain. Although there are many instances mentioning of his rep for being moody, aloof and arrogant, when those same adjectives are uttered to describe a white athlete, one is considered simply competitive and high strung. One thing is for sure, Bill Russell literally flipped the script and changed the rules of the game being forever remembered as setting a standard so high even he had difficulty keeping up.
His grit, grind and greatness, set a precedent paving the way for Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Colin Kaepernick and so many more generations to follow his legacy of sports and civil rights.