Russell is the first basketball player so honored, and Henry Abbott of TrueHoop expresses what a lot of hoops fans feel regarding the refreshing embrace of the sport by the White House.
Matt Viser of the Boston Globe reports:
Obama will name Russell as one of the recipients of a 2010 Medal of Freedom, according to a White House official. He joins a range of others, including former President George H. W. Bush, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, philanthropist Warren Buffett, poet Maya Angelou, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
An announcement on the White House blog describes Russell’s accomplishments like this:
Bill Russell is the former Boston Celtics’ Captain who almost single-handedly redefined the game of basketball. Russell led the Celtics to a virtually unparalleled string of eleven championships in thirteen years and was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times. The first African American to coach in the NBA — indeed he was the first to coach a major sport at the professional level in the United States — Bill Russell is also an impassioned advocate of human rights. He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and has been a consistent advocate of equality.
When you put his biography like that, Russell seems like such a no-brainer for an honor of this magnitude.
Isn’t it funny, though, as a basketball fan, that it still feels a little strange to have the political establishment endorse the game, and its players, so profoundly? It’s not that they don’t deserve it, it’s that it’s still so new. The White House has been a place of baseball, by and large, and maybe some football. But this is a basketball White House, and it sure feels different to me, and, I suspect, to Bill Russell.
In any case, congratulations to the best winner in the history of the game, and a pioneer who encountered all manner of nastiness while maintaining every ounce of his dignity.