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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his friendship with ‘personal hero’ Bill Russell


Morning sports update

“When Bill laughed, you couldn’t help laughing.”

NBA legends (including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) on stage with NBA Lifetime Achievement Award winner Bill Russell at the 2017 NBA Awards Live On TNT in 2017. Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for TNT

The Red Sox beat the Astros 3-2 Monday night in Houston. The win brings Boston down to .500 at 52-52.

Off the field, the Red Sox made three trades on Monday, including sending longtime receiver Christian Vázquez across the field to the team’s opponent that night, the Astros.

The MLB trade deadline falls today at 6 p.m. ET.

Tonight, the Red Sox play the Astros again at 8:10 p.m.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Bill Russell: Like so many others in the sports world (and beyond), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has shared his thoughts following the death of Celtics legend Bill Russell.

Abdul-Jabbar first tweeted about Russell, calling him “my friend, my mentor, my role model.” Additionally, he promised to write a more substantial article about his relationship with Russell.

For his Substack Monday newsletter, Abdul-Jabbar spoke about the history between the two Hall of Fame centers in an article titled “The Bill Russell I’ve Known for 60 Years.”

“There is much more truth, love and respect in my 60-year relationship with Bill Russell that I want to share so the world can know,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote, “not just as one of the greatest basketball players live, but as a man who taught me to be greater, as a player and as a man.

The first meeting between the two took place in 1961, when Abdul-Jabbar was 14 years old. The Celtics practiced at Power Memorial Academy, Abdul-Jabbar’s high school in New York, ahead of a game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

“As I walked around the gym, I saw, casually sitting on the bleacher bench reading The New York Times, Bill Russell,” Abdul-Jabbar recalled. “The Secretary of Defense himself. My personal hero.

The reunion was initially awkward, as Russell “snorted” that he “didn’t just get up to meet a kid”.

But at the request of Celtics coach Red Auerbach, Russell showed up. Looking back, Abdul-Jabbar said the meeting had “inspired” him to work even harder.

“They say you should never meet your heroes,” he wrote. “That it is above all disappointing, disillusioning or discouraging. But that was not my experience. I was delighted. He spoke to me. And I thought I saw in his eyes recognition of someone, like him, who had a passion for the game that burned deep and burned and bright.

Over the next few years, Abdul-Jabbar studied Russell on the basketball court “like Oppenheimer studied Einstein”.

“I learned to dominate in the paint by applying defensive pressure,” he recalls.

“Watching him, I realized that Bill seemed to know what each player was going to do before they did,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “He anticipated their move like a chess master, then leapt into the air to block them before they knew what was happening. He didn’t play a one-size-fits-all defense, he customized his defense to fit each player.

But just as Russell’s legacy is inseparable from his activist work, so has its effect on Abdul-Jabbar.

Specifically, Abdul-Jabbar pointed to their mutual presence at the famous 1967 meeting of mostly black athletes with Muhammad Ali (known as the Cleveland Summit).

“The Bill Russell of the Cleveland Summit was who I wanted to be when I grew up,” he said. “In fact, the Bill Russell of the Cleveland Summit made me grow on the spot. As I had emulated him on the court, I chose to emulate him off the court as well.

During this time, the two developed a friendship. Much of it, according to Abdul-Jabbar, was based on trying to elicit Russell’s signature laugh.

“At every meeting, I made it my mission to try to make him laugh,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “He had a high-pitched laugh – something between a chirping goose and a bawling donkey – and nothing brightened a room like his laugh. When Bill laughed, you couldn’t help laughing.

One of the most personal anecdotes Abdul-Jabbar shared was finding the courage to finally ask Russell for an autograph while the two were shooting a commercial together (with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson) in 2014.

It’s something Abdul-Jabbar said he wanted from Russell “since he met him 53 years ago.”

Russell, who has never been a fan of autographs, “looked at me for a long time,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

But eventually, the 11-time NBA champion signed the jersey given to him and Abdul-Jabbar thanked him.

“Of course, kid,” Russell told 67-year-old Abdul-Jabbar.

“He had kept calling me kid since we first met when I was fourteen,” Abdul-Jabbar explained. “I think it was his good-natured way of reminding me that he was there first and that I will always follow in his giant steps.”

And even at their last meeting — a barbecue in 2021 — Russell greeted his old friend with the familiar “Hello, kid.”

For Abdul-Jabbar, it was another excuse to return to a familiar routine.

“I smiled back and tried to think how I would make him laugh.”

Anecdotes: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has won the NBA MVP title six times. His first two MVP awards came in the 1971-72 and 1973-74 seasons. Which Celtic won the mid-season award?

(Answer below).

Hint: He is the most recent person to hold the player-coach title in the NBA.

More on boston.com:

Cork relief:Following Monday’s announcement that the Patriots had given punter Jake Bailey a contract extension, some of the specific details about the cap have emerged.

A surreal scene: Christian Vázquez was dismissed from reporters shortly after learning he was traded from the Red Sox in one dugout to the Astros in another.

On this day: In 1971, then-relief pitcher Bill Lee came on in the first inning of a game against the Orioles after Red Sox starter Luis Tiant struggled early (relinquishing four runs – two home runs – and only getting two outs before being put out).

Lee, tasked with the unenviable long-relief role, performed admirably. He allowed only three Baltimore base runners for the rest of the game, stalling the Orioles and giving his Boston teammates a chance to rally.

It was actually Lee himself who started the rally in the top of the second, going for a single and setting Boston wide receiver Bob Montgomery in the process. Back-to-back homers from Reggie Smith and Carl Yastrzemski in the seventh put the Red Sox ahead for good. In the end, Boston emerged with a 7-4 win.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on his friendship with ‘personal hero’ Bill Russell

daily highlight: Francisco González Metilli of Argentine club Central Córdoba scored one of the best goals of 2022 in a 3-0 win over Rosario Central on Monday.

Quiz Answer: Dave Cowens



Boston

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