Bill Russell has had a mind-blowing NBA career as a player and coach with the Boston Celtics. The Hall of Fame was also a vocal opponent of racial injustice and social inequality, especially at a time when the civil rights movement was gaining momentum.
Hunt Auctions announced Thursday that Russell has sent his collection of basketball memorabilia and civil rights artifacts to a live auction the company will host later this year. Items for sale include Russell’s first and last NBA Championship rings, his MVP awards, and items worn by the games.
“There are a few things that I’m going to keep to myself, but the rest I’m going to share with the world,” said Russell.
A portion of the proceeds will be donated to MENTOR, an organization that helps ensure young people receive support through mentoring. Other groups that will benefit include Boston Celtics United for Social Justice, which tackles racial and social injustice in the Boston area.
Russell, 87, who played for the Celtics from 1957 to 1969 and coached in Boston in 1967-68, is one of the best players in the NBA, especially in defense. He won 11 titles in a 13-year span with the Celtics, was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player five times, and was selected as an All-Star 12 times. “Russ” has also been selected 11 times for the All-NBA squad.
He also led the University of San Francisco to back-to-back NCAA crowns – which included a 55-game winning streak – and captained the 1956 Olympic basketball team to a gold medal, a collected a huge collection of memorabilia.
Highlights of Russell’s personal collection which will be sold by Hunt Auctions at a location and date as yet undetermined include:
- Boston Celtics Professional Pattern Jersey c. 1960s
- NBA Most Valuable Player Award 1957-58
- 1961-62 NBA Most Valuable Player Award
- 1962-63 NBA Most Valuable Player Award
- NBA Most Valuable Player Award 1964-65
- 1957 NBA championship ring, his first with the Celtics
- 1969 NBA championship ring, his last title
- NBA 50 Best Players Ring
- Boston Celtics Career Ring
- 1964 US State Department NBA Tour Professional Pattern Jersey
- 1968 20,000th basketball rebound presentation game
- 1964 10,000th presentation basketball points
- 60s Celtics Warm-Up Jacket
Some of the items will be on display at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago next week.
Russell said he was proud to sell part of his collection, knowing that part of the proceeds would help MENTOR.
“I have been fortunate enough to be a part of so many historic teams and to play with a lot of amazing teammates and even better men. I am eternally grateful to (Celtics owner) Walter Brown and my coach and friend forever, Red Auerbach, for allowing me to be the man I was, on and off the pitch.
“At this point in my life, I am happy to share part of my personal collection with the world and proud that the auction is in part benefiting MENTOR. MENTOR aims to bridge the mentoring gap and foster equity through quality mentoring relationships for youth, ”added Russell. “The potential is evenly distributed; the opportunity is not. MENTOR’s work holds a special place in my heart and I am honored to support it in some way.
Russell was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1975 and was elected coach that year.
His autobiography of 1979, Second wind: the memories of an obstinate man, details Russell’s career but also allows him to speak about freedom, race, marriage, religion and American culture.
Russell was at the heart of the controversy in October 1961, when he boycotted an exhibition game in Lexington, Ky., Along with his black teammates Sam Jones and “Satch” Sanders. Jones and Sanders were refused service in the hotel cafe where the Celtics were staying, and the line refused to play that night against the St. Louis Hawks.
“We were down to eat and they said, ‘Well we really can’t serve you,’” Sanders told WBUR in an interview in 2018.
Russell had none of that and asked Celtics coach Red Auerbach to drive the three players to the airport. According to the Washington Post, his teammates KC Jones and a fifth black Boston player, rookie Al Butler, refused to play.
“I never allowed myself to be a victim,” Russell remarked.
Some of Russell’s memorabilia in the auction include scrapbook entries on what is now known as the “Boycott Game.”
“Of the civil rights articles, my favorite is an amazing page from (Russell’s) personal album that chronicles the Lexington ‘boycott’ game,” Hunt Auctions president David Hunt told Sports Collectors Daily. “In addition to period newspaper headlines and related paper articles, it also includes a poignant letter from Jackie Robinson to Bill.”
Hunt said Russell’s accomplishments on and off the pitch were important.
“On his own, Bill revolutionized basketball and the way it was played,” Hunt told Sports Collectors Daily. Perhaps equally remarkable, he was a champion of the civil rights movement during a pivotal time in the country.
“Having the honor of interacting with Bill, hearing various accounts of his career and personally working with the range of important memorabilia in his collection has been humbling to say the least.”
For more information or to register for the Bill Russell auction, collectors can visit the Hunt Auctions website or call 610-524-0822.