Bill Russell's Political Life:
He not only redefined basketball, but, as the civil rights movement gained momentum in tandem with his career, the role of the black athlete. Born in West Monroe, La., in 1934, Russell's early life experiences paralleled those of tens of thousands of other African-Americans. He fought for African Americans to do what they love even if it meant defying the odds and joining a league where the race is predominantly white.
Russell's Athletic Life:
Russell said he learned that black players could be cheated out of individual laurels, so he decided to focus on what was in his control—making his teams win. He did that in a way that has never been matched in pro sports. After Red Auerbach finagled the rights to draft Russell in the 1956 draft, the center led the Celtics to 11 championships in his 13 years in the league. These included fierce match-ups with his bigger, stronger rival—and close friend—Wilt Chamberlain. The two pushed each other to extremes, but Russell, in large part through sheer will to win, usually prevailed.
“He thought that any team he plays on should win every single game. So that kind of permeated the whole team,” said Russell's Celtics teammate Tom “Satch” Sanders. “That was Russell’s gift.”
Russell—as well as other black NBA stars such as Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and Elgin Baylor—was also remaking the league and the game just as the United States was entering the Civil Rights era.
“It is the first time in four centuries that the American Negro can create his own history,” Russell wrote in the 1960s. “To be part of this is one of the most significant things that can happen.”
The surge of the movement placed black athletes—some of the most visible African-Americans in the country—into the political spotlight.
This is the same video as earlier but take a look at 0:50-2:25.
In this short one minute and 30 second segment really shows how the small african american community unified together and supported each other. Along with Russell going to Ali's trial he was also a part in Jackie Robinson's (first black baseball player who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers) funeral service, from two different sports and two completely different lives they were connected fighting for the same cuase.
"Bill has always had the consciousness and intellect to understand what freedom and equality and justice meant for all people," said longtime friend, Pro Football Hall of Famer and activist, Jim Brown. "He's always represented all people, not by color or race or gender or anything but by the rights of people.
"In his sports career he represented it and outside of that, he did everything he could do as an individual, utilizing his status, his intelligence, his energy and time to affect the lives of others. From Medgar Evers' family way back in those days to a tremendous mentoring program today. And not only that, in my work, if I ever needed him, I can always call him and he's been very instrumental in a lot of the things I've done."