Who Is My Generations Bill Russell?

Thursday night, I attended a gala in downtown Oakland. It was “A Tribute to Bill Russell” at the Oakland Convention Center.

I felt like I was in a time warp, like I had stepped into my father’s fantasy. The event was full of legends of yesteryear. Jim Brown. Joe Morgan. Harry Edwards. Al Attles. Willie Brown, both the Mayor and the Raiders great. This elegant event was in direct contrast to rugged way many of these legends made their name. The biggest of all, of course, being Bill Russell.

But they weren’t there just to rehash old memories. No doubt, stories were told. Russell talked about his days in the NBA and growing up in Oakland. But this wasn’t a shindig designed for corporate types to rub elbows with their heroes. It was about community progress.

RUSSELL: “If I have a legacy here, it’s to make life better for some of our kids.”

With McClymond’s high sports teams in attendance these legends talked of ending violence and improving schools. Brown pledged to get Oakland more involved in his Amer-I-Can program, which promotes academic improvement, life-management skills and acceptable behavior.

It made me wonder. Twenty years from now, when I’m the gray beard at a gala – in a suite at the new A’s stadium in downtown Oakland – who will we be honoring? Who is my generation’s Bill Russell, lending their fame and voice to benefit it’s community? Who will we be remembering for being as much an ambassador for people as a star athlete?

I’m not of the mind that athletes need to speak out like those of old. Times are just too different. And so many athletes do so much good. Like Adonal Foyle, who has been encouraging this generation and the next to get involved with democracy. Like David Robinson, who for years has been a champion for education.

But who will be our athlete worthy of a Presidential Medal of Freedom? Who will be the athlete that transcends generations because they were more than an athlete?

RUSSELL: “The reason I’m here is so we can start on accelerating a plan to make a graduation rate from 30 percent to 60 percent. I think I might not be here to see it.”

Marcus Thompson