- Margaret D.
- Tuesday, August 02, 2022
On November 4, 1971, the basketball legend Bill Russell visited Columbia. Recently retired from the sport, Russell came at the invitation of the University of South Carolina to speak during Black Week. About 500 people attended to hear him discuss his basketball career and to delve into deeper topics about race and politics in America. Now, more than 50 years later, his words still bear relevance.
According to The State newspaper, the theme of Russell’s talk was “Think and Participate.” Russell urged his audience to remain engaged in the world. While at the same time he urged listeners to weigh their actions with consideration of their impact on others.
“There are two ways to make changes – evolution and revolution. I don’t recommend either one. I’ll leave that up to you.” -Bill Russell
Russell did not sit on the sidelines during his career in sports or in life. He believed we all have a responsibility to make a better world. He did not want to be defined as an athlete first, but as a human first, in all of his efforts and in the eyes of all who viewed him.
“Aren’t you a basketball player? No, I’m a man that played basketball.”
Another topic that night that remains relevant today was the importance of dialog. He urged the audience to participate in active listening to each other.
“We must listen to each other – and by listening I don’t mean you shut up while I talk, I mean hear and evaluate what I say!”
Wise words that stand the test of time.
On discussing race in America, Russell urged mutual respect. He said that the Celtics were a great basketball team because its members respected one another.
“The Celtics were known for their comradeship…That’s what helped us to keep on winning. We had a common goal. There was something we had to do and we did with mutual respect for one another. Yet, each player kept his individualism.”
Mutual respect, for Russell, was working together for a common goal, not just everyone being the same. Understanding and working through differences helps us to reach that goal.
“We’re all in this thing together. You can’t get around that. You’ve got to have law and order. But it can’t be law for one and order for another.”
Again, wise words.
When asked about what he thought about being in Columbia, Russell delved into humor.
“Columbia, South Carolina. Oh what the hell, everybody’s got to be someplace!”
Bill Russell passed away on July 31, 2022. But I enjoyed reading about Russell’s visit again using Richland Library’s archive of The State newspaper, available in NewsBank. The photo above of Russell at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport is part of The State Newspaper Photograph Archive, available in the Local History Digital Collections.