Ethnic scars, mother lost
William Felton Russell was born on February 12, 1934 in Monroe, Los Angeles, where his father, Charles, worked in a paper bag factory. He remembered a warm home life but a childhood burned by racism. He noted that a police officer once threatened to arrest his mother, Katie, because she was dressed elegantly like those favored by white women. A gas station worker sought to please his father, while Bell was with him, by refusing to do favors, an episode that ended with Charles Russell chasing the man while brandishing a tire iron.
When Bill was 9 years old, the family moved to Oakland, California. His mother died when he was twelve, leaving his father, who opened a trucking company and then worked in a foundry, to raise Bill and his brother, Charles Jr. , teaching them, as Russell long ago remembered, hard work and a desire for self-worth and self-reliance.
At McLemonds High School in Oakland, Russell became a regular on the basketball team as a senior, already focusing on defense and rebounding. Hal DiGulio, a former University of San Francisco basketball player who researched his alma mater, recognized Russell’s potential and recommended him to coach Phil Walpert.
Russell received a scholarship and became an all-American, teaming up with the Guard KC Jones, a future Celtic teammate, has led San Francisco to the NCAA Championships in his last two seasons. After losing to UCLA in his junior year, the team won 55 consecutive games. He averaged over 20 points and 20 rebounds in his three seasons in college.
“Nobody played basketball the way I did, or either,” Russell told Sport in 1963, recalling his college career. They had never before seen anyone holding back the shooting. Now I’d be conceited: I like to think I’ve created a whole new style of play.”
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