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

  • DW

    Sounds like one of those questions unfortunately you already know the answer to… NO ONE! Even though times are different it’s the money and the lifestyle these guys feel like they could jeopardize for taking a stand on anything. Yelling for Haiti or Japan or even curing cancer isn’t a real cause because everyone is in favor of helping or curing those things but taking an unpopular stand on anything is what these guys would never do.

    If anyone would do something good but unpopular consequences be damned, I would have to say Ron Artest believe it or not. Maybe you have to be a little crazy to take a stand these days.

  • Harold

    Marcus – good to see you’re supporting the effort to build a stadium at the Victory Court site. Can you talk to your buds at the Merc and ask them to leave our team alone?

  • leop

    Sorry, but can you go over Bill Russell’s accomplishments outside of Basketball?

    Also, DW, here’s a tip. You can help Bill Russell cause by just volunteering as a tutor at a local low-income community center. Glad I could help you.

    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.”

  • TownLove

    Once in a generation figure……Make that three generations.

  • WetLunGz

    Monta ellis and the me8 foundation
    Minute bole

  • theCOUP

    Nice article Marcus..

    I am always baffled by the city of Oakland’s constant failure to recognize our hometown hero’s.. Our hometown has been fighting (and mostly losing) the battle with its public image – yet for reasons unknown always whiff on opportunities to honer people from our community who have gone on to accomplish positive things.

    From McClymonds’ perfect 32-0 season in 2008, to Van Jones, to Ashton Purvis the biggest Highschool track star in the country (while at St. Liz an East Oakland school with no track) — it seems that Oakland would much rather spend their time villainizing and disenfranchising the youth of our community, than encouraging us to strive to make a positive change by giving due credit to the one’s who have done just that..

    Although it will be nearly impossible for someone to accomplish as much as Russell off the court – simply because now a days it is impossible to accomplish what Russell did on the court.. Here are some local athletes I draw strength from:

    Kevin Johnson
    Leon Powe
    Nnamdi Asomugha
    Kirk Morrison
    Brian Shaw
    Lorenzo Alexander (St. Marys/Cal/Redskins)

    Although they may not have the resume as Russell (no one from anywhere will ever again) these people have given back to our community in the best way they can.. Having competed against these athletes on the local playing fields and growing up attending camps like Shaw’s every summer I know for a fact that these local athletes would give just as much, if not more back to the community as Russell if they had the financial resources Russell has..

    At Shaw’s camp as a kid I got opportunity to meet Jason Kidd, Gary Payton, Keyshawn Johnson, Joe Smith to many to name.. I have a picture with Kareem Abdul Jabbar that hangs on my wall till this day, who I meet at a camp at Skyline High.

    So the local hero’s and role models are there, you just have to look a little harder.. MT, as a young African American male we both understand and are well aware of the fact that the Ray Allen’s, David Robinson’s, Brandon Roy’s, Grant Hill’s of the world will never receive the off court publicity of the Plaxico Burress’ and Mick Vick’s.. Thats just the way it is.

    Props to you and Monte for recognizing and bringing light to this issue. Hopefully our local media will do a better job at honoring those who have excelled in their field that we should all be proud of.. You yourself are an inspiration and positive role model to many young African Americans from Oakland such as myself, in every word and every article you write.. So keep up the good work my friend, because like Russell while the loud minority criticizes — the silent masses learns..

  • DW

    Hey Leop,
    So glad you can find a way to be a douche on any subject.
    Glad I could help..

  • Warrior Fan

    Great article!!

  • AKBear

    Speaking of All-Time lists, Nellie shared his all-Nellie team with Greg Papa as:

    PG – Steve Nash
    SG – Sidney Moncrief (Mitch Richmond a close second)
    SF – Marques Johnson (with Chris Mullin a close second)
    PF – Dirk Nowitzki
    C – Bob Lanier (on one leg)

    Best player that Nellie ever coached: Nash