BOSTON (AP) — Bill Russell helped establish and define the standard for the Boston Celtics.
The franchise took its latest opportunity to honor its greatest player before its season opener against Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
The Celtics held the first of two planned ceremonies this season to commemorate Russell since he died July 31 at age 88. A second celebration will take place Feb. 12, Russell’s birthday.
Signs of his life and legacy were sprinkled all over TD Garden.
There were video tributes highlighting some of Russell’s biggest moments on and off the court.
The team also wore No. 6 patches on its special edition jerseys, which included a Celtics script fashioned after the same one as the Slade’s Bar and Grill restaurant that Russell owned for several years. The uniforms included 11 gold diamonds down the sides, signifying the 11 championships Russell helped bring Boston over a 13-year span during his storied career.
Flanked by his current Celtics teammates, Jaylen Brown stood at midcourt before tipoff and asked the capacity crowd rhetorically what defined Russell’s greatness.
“Bill Russell was a great man for what and who he stood for,” Brown said. “He represented a nobility and honesty that transcended sport. … He was a true champion both on and off the floor and our gratitude is endless.”
The ceremony ended with performances by Grammy-nominated singer Aloe Blacc and a poem by Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola.
The racial and social justice activism that Russell was also a champion of was on display with two Black coaches squaring off against one another. When Russell became player-coach of the Celtics he was he first Black coach in any of the major U.S. sports leagues.
76ers coach Doc Rivers, who coached Boston for 11 seasons and led the franchise to its 17th title during the 2007-08 season, said being in the Garden on Tuesday was special for him.
“He meant a lot. He meant a lot before I arrived here,” Russell said before the game. “Just for what he stood for, what he went through. Being the first Black coach. He meant a winner. I still don’t think he gets enough credit. He did so many things, I don’t think we talk enough about his winning. Not just at the NBA level, but everywhere he went he won.”
Rivers said he’ll always cherish getting to know Russell and other players from his generation during his Boston tenure.
“The thing I’ll remember the most is how emotional he was when we won it,” Rivers said. “I actually thought that with all the ex-players. You don’t see that very often, just the connection that they have to this franchise. But he was visibly emotional. That was cool.”