BOSTON (CBS) — Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell was honored at Wednesday night’s ESPYS, but it wasn’t for what he accomplished on the basketball court.
Russell became the 27th winner of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, which has been presented annually since 1993 to a sports figure who “possess strength in the face of adversity, courage in the face of peril and the willingness to stand up for their beliefs no matter what the cost.” Russell certainly checks all those boxes.
Russell won 11 titles and five MVPs in his 13 seasons in Boston and later became the first black head coach in NBA history. But he received the award for his role as a central figure in the civil rights movement throughout his life.
Retired Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant introduced Russell with a powerful speech, calling Russell “the greatest winner that sports has ever known.” But Bryant focused on Russell’s role in breaking racial barriers during his era.
“Every generation has a responsibility to teach the next. One thing I learned about Bill was how he drew inspiration from his grandfather, whose motto was, ‘A man has to draw a line within himself that he will not allow any man to cross.’ Bill learned from that and added his own motto: ‘You disrespect the line, you disrespect me.’ More than 50 years later, Bill and his grandfather’s mottos still resonate powerfully and still speak loudly for Bill’s beliefs,” said Bryant.
“Bill’s dissatisfaction with the injustices of the world never changed,” Bryant continued. “His hope for a better tomorrow, Bill has led the way that inspires all of us — the next generation — to follow his lead.”
Russell, 85, did not speak after being announced as this year’s recipient, but received a rousing ovation from those in attendance at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.
Back in Boston, City Hall was lit up green in honor of Russell receiving the award.