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February 14, 2009

Bill Russell


OPENING STATEMENT: Obviously, David, I want to thank you. This is a bittersweet award. I just lost my special person, but I wanted to thank my teammates because we played a team game quite well, and this is -- I accept this for my team, and my team included our coach, Red Auerbach, and all my teammates over the years.
It is quite flattering, but I want to explain something to you, all you folks here, this is only the second time I have been out in public since I got my hearing aids. And so when I thought I was going to be with the guys from the press, I put them in the drawer back in my hotel room. (Laughter).
My wife, Marilyn, used to always ask me why I wouldn't wear my hearing aids, and she bought some fancy hearing aids. She said they won't show and all that. And I said, The reason I don't wear them is not vanity; the reason I don't wear them is because I like what I don't hear. (Smiling).
But, David, and the folks at NBA, this is one of my proudest moments in basketball because I determined early in my career the only important statistic in basketball is the final score. And so I dedicated my career to playing, to make sure as often as possible we were always on the positive side of the final score.
And like David said, it was ironic that I never won a MVP in the Finals. And it is okay because I will just tell you this, from my second year in the league, I was the most valuable player of the league by the players' votes, but I was Second Team All-League by the writers vote. (Smiling).
That's why I didn't wear them. (Laughter).
But, David, thank you so much. Very seriously, what I'm going to do next week is visit my father's grave because he was my hero and I'm going to share that with him.
Thank you.

Q. (On the consecutive titles he won with the Celtics.)
BILL RUSSELL: ...someone said you won eight straight. I said, are you kidding? It never occurred to us because we always took one year at a time. Last year and next year did not exist for us so that every championship was an individual team.

Q. Was it a different team that way?
BILL RUSSELL: It was a different team that way. We were unique.
For example, all of our players, all five players had an assignment every play, whether they were the shooter or if I was away from the shooter so that every goal scored was a team effort.

Q. Do you see a generation of young players now, the stars who have taken over, LeBron, Kobe, Chris Paul, they put a greater premium on team play? Do you like the young players and how they care about winning?
BILL RUSSELL: Yeah, I do. I have watched the NBA since 1949, and I knew when I was watching, the players today are just as energetic and just as challenging. The game has evolved.
So if you say the players don't have good fundamentals, they don't have the fundamentals played back then but they have the fundamentals to play the game today.
I think they are incredible players. Unfortunately for me none of them are really good at defense. (Laughter).
That was always my approach to the game. Defense first and then offense.

Q. Does that make this Celtics team even more enduring to you, the way they played last year?
BILL RUSSELL: I told Kevin and the guys, especially Paul, that they were playing like Celtics.

Q. With all these great players and free agency in the next couple of years, what would your advice be for them when they make their decisions?
BILL RUSSELL: I was one of the guys that founded the Players Association. And my first thought is with the players.
But I would never assume the position of giving advice to the young players because it took years and years for my kids to listen to my advice.

Q. If you were a free agent, what would your priority be?
BILL RUSSELL: Well, quality of life. All these guys get a lot of money, but money is not the incentive. The incentive is to build a team where you are able to play, and winning is part of that.
So each guy has to look at what does he consider important. And although money is important, it can never be the final determination.

Q. It was not easy for you to be an African-American --
BILL RUSSELL: Yes, it was.

Q. -- in Boston in the '60s.
BILL RUSSELL: I was having the time of my life and that's not kidding. The reason I was having the time of my life, first of all, they gave me something to do in my off time.
But what I ascribed to do, and I did quite well, is every time I came into an adversarial situation, I decided to take control of it so that if a guy came up to me and tried to give me a bad day, I made sure that he was the one who left with the bad day.
And so to do this took thought, planning and discretion and intelligence. That was the way I conducted my life.
My family -- going back to my grandfather who was always like that -- actually, I will give you an example. My second year in the league, I bought a house in Reading, Massachusetts. It was a nice little house. And the first time I went on a road trip, my garbage cans got turned over. Okay.
So the next time I go on a road trip, my garbage cans get turned over. Being the citizen that I am, I wandered down to the police station and talked to the captain of the police and said, When I go on the road, my garbage cans get turned over and I would like to be able to call you guys from the road and have you patrol a little more vigilantly.
And he says, It is just probably raccoons. So I said, okay. While I'm here, I would like to get a gun permit.
The raccoons heard about that, never turned the trash cans over again. I have never had to buy a gun. But the point is I handled all kinds of situations, first of all, with a positive attitude and always, as my father said, always being a man. So to be a man in my father's eyes and my grandfather's eyes, I was having the time of my life.

End of FastScripts

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