Bill Russell weighs in on protests, shares his own quote from 1960s

Scott McLaughlin
June 05, 2020 - 1:03 pm

It's no surprise that the first thing listed in Bill Russell's Twitter bio -- even before "11x NBA Champ" -- is "Civil rights activist."

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The Celtics legend, now 86, has been taking a stand against racism and injustice his whole life, and Thursday on Twitter he shared some thoughts on the protests taking place across the country in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

Russell said his wife took him to see some of the protests and asked him if he could believe he was living through this again.

"Yes, nothing had changed & we will see some change but most likely not enough," Russell wrote.

Russell included an image of a newspaper or magazine clip featuring quotes from him from 1963 or 1964, when he went down to Jackson, Mississippi following the murder of civil rights activist Medgar Evers by a white supremacist and helped open the first integrated basketball camp in the area.

The Celtics had just won their fifth straight title and Russell his third straight MVP award, and he was asked if he was worried that taking a stand would hurt his popularity.

"I'm a man. If I have to be a boy to be popular, then I don't want it," Russell said. "If my popularity depends on a thing like this, I don't give a damn."

Asked if he feared for his life, Russell responded: "I'd rather die for something than live for nothing."

Of course, athletes today still grapple with the possibility that speaking up and being an activist will hurt their popularity, as evidenced by the way many fans turned on NFL players who kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality and systemic racism, a movement Russell supported.

Many athletes have taken a stand over the last week-plus, though, including current Celtics Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Enes Kanter and Vincent Poirier taking part in and helping to lead peaceful protests.

Related: Stephon Gilmore, other NFL stars call for change from league