Ask anyone who is the greatest basketball player of all time, and you’ll surely get a diversity of opinions—including Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Magic Johnson and that dude who played for your cousin’s high school in 1987 whose jump shot was wet but he got shot in his layup leg running from the police his senior year in high school after he stole a black-and-white television from Radio Shack, so he never made it to the NBA. But if you ask who was the greatest man who played in the NBA, you’ll only get one name:
William Felton Russell.
The eleven-time NBA champion (no, that’s not a typo) is known as much for his willingness to stand up for what is right as he is for his five NBA MVP awards (no, that’s not a typo). Bill Russell counseled Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown; fought for civil rights his entire career, and financially supported the movement as one of the NBA’s biggest stars. He held Boston Celtic fans accountable for their racism and once convinced his entire organization to forfeit a game because a restaurant wouldn’t serve black customers. Only one other human being (Buddy Jeanette) has won an NBA title as a player while he was the team’s head coach.
Bill Russell did it twice.
But, despite being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975, Russell never acknowledged the honor or accepted his Hall of Fame ring. When asked why he essentially boycotted the ceremony, Russell would only reply that he had his “own personal reasons.” Throughout his post-NBA career, he refrained from referring to himself as a “Hall-of-Famer” and never explained why.
On Thursday, Bill Russell finally accepted his Hall of Fame ring in a private ceremony at his home, but only after he confirmed that Chuck Cooper had been inducted into the Hall of Fame:
In a private ceremony w/my wife & close friends A.Mourning @AnnMeyers @billwalton & others I accepted my #HOF ring. In ‘75 I refused being the 1st black player to go into the @Hoophall I felt others before me should have that honor. Good to see progress; ChuckCooperHOF19 @NBA pic.twitter.com/2FI5U7ThTg
— TheBillRussell (@RealBillRussell) November 15, 2019
So who is Chuck Cooper?
No one would ever argue that Chuck Cooper was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He only averaged 6.7 points per game throughout his career. So, why would Bill Russell boycott the most prestigious honor in his sport because of this unknown guy?
Because Charles “Chuck” Cooper was the first black man drafted into the NBA.
Cooper died in 1984, but for 44 years, Russell has refused to accept the induction until the men who paved the way were respected by his sport. And now, Russell can call himself a Hall-of-Fame basketball player.
He was already a Hall of Fame man.