Students at Oakland’s McClymonds High School have plenty to be proud of, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the current football team (which is very strong). Rather, the school has a rich sporting history, one that came to mind last week when basketball great Bill Russell appeared at the Oakland Museum to preview the opening of "Sports: Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers," a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition that began Saturday and will run through Jan. 7.
Russell, a 1952 McClymonds graduate, is the embodiment of perseverance. Cut from Mack’s junior varsity squad as a junior, Russell thrived on the varsity squad under renowned coach George Powles. Russell went on to the University of San Francisco, where he led the Dons to consecutive national championships in 1955-56. From there, he went on to captain a gold medal Olympic team and to lead the Boston Celtics to 11 titles in a 13-year career that included five MVP awards. Through his career and beyond, Russell has given clinics all over the world, setting his sights on improving the quality of life for the generations that followed.
One of Russell’s teammates at McClymonds was Frank Robinson, who went on to fame in baseball, where he was a rookie of the year, an MVP in both leagues and a rare Triple Crown winner (he led the American League in batting, home runs and RBI with the Orioles in 1966).
As gifted as the former McClymonds teammates were (Russell and Robinson ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the Times Top 25 Athletes series some month ago), their ultimate imprints were as much sociological as they were athletic. After Hall of Fame coach Red Auerbach stepped away from the Celtics bench in 1966, it was Russell who took over as player-coach, thus becoming the first African-American coach in any major U.S. pro sport. Nine years later, Robinson debuted as Major League Baseball’s first African-American manager with the Cleveland Indians.
In addition to, Russell and Robinson, fellow McClymonds grad Paul Silas also played and coached in the NBA. True, there are other high schools with their own claims to fame. And at Mack, a lot of what we hear of today has to do with economic and academic struggles. Still, the school has a proud tradition of success on which to build.