Bill Russell to Speak at Centennial Commencement

Bill Russell wears some of his 11 championship rings.

5/3/2007

NBA champion, civil rights advocate, and author Bill Russell will be the speaker at Suffolk University’s Centennial Commencement on Sunday, May 20, 2007, which will bring together graduating students from the University’s Law School, College of Arts and Sciences, and Sawyer Business School.

Suffolk University will award Russell and three others honorary degrees at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Rules for winning

Sports Illustrated has called Russell the “greatest team player on the greatest team ever,” and his rules for winning apply to all aspects of life -- family, career, and business, as well as athletics.
 
Fifty years ago, Russell, an NBA rookie, led his Celtics team to its first championship. That championship culminated a year in which he also had been part of NCAA championship and Olympic gold medal teams. Two years later the legendary Celtics dynasty began, and its eight consecutive world championships have never been surpassed in American professional sports. Russell, seldom the leading scorer, used his defensive powers to change the way the game was played.

Russell led the Celtics to 11 NBA championships in 13 years, two of them as player-coach. He was the first African-American to coach an NBA team. After retiring from the Celtics in 1969, he worked as a television commentator, coach, and basketball executive.

Civil rights

Russell was the only black player on the team when he joined the Boston Celtics in 1956, and he became an outspoken critic of racism, demanding that people confront the inconsistencies of their actions.

He was once presented the key to an Indiana city, but when a local restaurant later refused to serve him because of the color of his skin, he awakened the mayor at home and returned the key.  Russell said: "I was a man first and basketball player second. I did not want people to define me by what I did for my profession.”

He is the author of the memoirs Go Up for Glory and Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man, as well as Russell Rules: 11 Lessons of Leadership from the Twentieth Century’s Greatest Winner.

Community service


The NBA and U.S. State Department tapped him to serve as a Global Ambassador of Basketball on visits to Africa, where he was the first NBA player to visit in 1959.  Twenty years later, he made his first trip to China.  Altogether, he has hosted clinics in over 50 countries on six continents.  For sharing his love of the game and zest for life, Bill received the NBA’s first Civil Rights Award.

Russell, a sought-after mentor, is active on the Board of Directors of the National Mentoring Partnership. He and his daughter Karen—both sarcoidosis patients—have joined with the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research to help raise national awareness of this disease. He also works to promote arthritis awareness and treatment through the B.E.A.T Arthritis: Boost Education of Arthritis Treatment campaign.

In addition to many sports honors, he was awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for his decades of service to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Honorary degrees

Suffolk University will award the following honorary degrees at the Centennial Commencement:

  • William F. Russell, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

  • Attorney John J. Gardner, JD ’31, the University’s oldest alumnus, of counsel, Charmoy, Stolzberg & Holian LLP, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws

  • Margot Stern Strom, president and executive director of Facing History and Ourselves, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

  • The Hon. Peter T. Zarella, JD ’75, a justice of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, will be awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws.

 

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