Leaving to join the skies on July 31 at the age of 88, Bill Russell leaves behind him an immense legacy, characterized obviously by his exceptional NBA career but also his great contribution on subjects that go well beyond the scope of the prosecution. The stories and anecdotes about Billou are as numerous as his successes, some much funnier than others. And precisely, always with the aim of paying homage to the most ringed winner in history, we wanted to come back to a little story that sums up the state of mind that this great man possessed. Back in 2006, during Martin Luther King Day.
MLK Day is always a very special day in the NBA. Not only because it allows us to achieve a very big marathon with the sequence of many highly anticipated matches, but above all because it allows us to honor one of the greatest figures of the American civil rights movement. And for Bill Russell, the third Monday of January each year was the occasion to remember this date of August 28, 1963, when he participated at the age of 29 in the March on Washington where Martin Luther King pronounced his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Respected as much for his activism in favor of the African-American cause as for his NBA career, the former pivot of the Celtics perceived MLK Day as a day that should above all allow us to bring together and overcome differences, regardless of their nature. It was the famous dream of Martin Luther King, and Billou wanted to continue to maintain it on his own scale.
On MLK Day in 2006, Shaquille O’Neal’s Miami Heat traveled to Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers. It is the flagship poster of the evening, Shaq returning to the City of Angels to face his old team now guided by rival Kobe. When the two were playing together, they truly stepped on the NBA winning three consecutive titles at the start of the new millennium, but tensions within the duo eventually shattered the Lakers dynasty. O’Neal’s questionable work ethic irked Bryant, while the latter’s individualism had a similar effect on the pivot. It was in 2004, after a humiliation in the NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons, that the two superstars finally took a different path, they who simply could no longer breathe the same air. And logically, during the two years that followed, each confrontation between Miami and Los Angeles was eagerly awaited on the NBA planet because it potentially sparked big sparks between Shaq and Kobe. Except that on January 16, 2006, it’s a completely different image that we see during the warm-up. Forget about tension O’Neal comes to see Bryant to greet him while the latter performs a stretching session on the ground, and the duo check each other again at the kick-off. The man behind it all? It’s Mr. Bill Russell.
A few days before the match, Billou ran into Shaq on the Seattle side and took the opportunity to send him a message. “Bury the hatchet with Kobe, the past is the past. » When it comes to rivalry, Bill Russell knows a thing or two as he battled the monster Wilt Chamberlain for a long time, who later became a true friend of the legendary Boston center. So O’Neal retains the words of Billou, who inspires respect and admiration just by his presence. Not only does he retain them but he performs as agreed on the evening of MLK Day at the Staples Center, Shaq and Kobe thus putting an end to their beef which has been so much talked about in previous years.
“I had orders from the great Bill Russell. He told me what a rivalry should look like. He told me he never hated an opponent on the field.
And today is a day of peace. Dr. Martin Luther King was an ambassador of peace. When I spoke with Mr. Russell, he told me that he and Wilt Chamberlain spoke once or twice a day before his death. And even though people thought they hated each other, there was only love between them. »
For the record, Kobe Bryant will get the better of Shaq on this MLK Day 2006, the Mamba finishing with 37 pawns in a 100-92 victory for the Lakers. This is a first for Kobe since the transfer of O’Neal to the Heat in the summer of 2004, but the essential is elsewhere. And as a symbol, it is also on this day that Bill Russell receives the National Civil Rights Museum Sports Legacy Award during a game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies on the Tennessee side. He deserved it for bringing together two of the biggest NBA all-time stars.
” That feels good. We have been through so many battles together. I think it’s a good thing for the city of Los Angeles, for the NBA, for the youth since it’s MLK Day. »
If Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant will find new ways to tickle each other in the following years, MLK Day 2006 will remain the moment when they chose to nurture a climate of peace in a relationship that has often been tumultuous. A peace which will be symbolized in particular three years later by a trophy of co-MVP of the All-Star Game 2009. Thank you who? Thank you Billo.
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Bill Russell, the man who pushed Shaquille O’Neal to make peace with Kobe Bryant
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