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Famed NBA star, civil rights activist makes an impact in Walla Walla in 1980 | Community

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A famous athlete got here to Walla Walla as featured speaker on the Blue Mountain Sports Awards on April 2, 1980, at Cordiner Hall on the Whitman College campus.

“In your lives do the perfect you may to be pleased,” said legend Bill Russell during his speech.

A Walla Walla Union-Bulletin ad on March 31, 1980, stated that “During his basketball profession, Russell modified the sort of play but he isn’t ‘only a basketball player.’ He’s an interesting, complicated, opinionated, thoughtful, funny and sometimes profound man.”

At the moment he had authored two books, “Go Up for Glory” and “Second Wind.” He was also a CBS sports commentator and a daily columnist with The Seattle Times.

About 800 people attended the fourth annual Blue Mountain Sports Awards evening, sponsored by the U-B and Walla Walla Booster Club, former Sports Editor Skip Nichols reported within the U-B on April 3, 1980.

“I normally avoid athletic banquets or ceremonies because most of them neglect crucial thing in athletics: Humanity. Athletics is humanity. Seek advice from me about statistics and it becomes very boring. But tell me a couple of player’s humanity and it’s value listening to,” Russell said in his opening remarks.

“You’re sure together tonight,” he told the audience. “You’re here discussing something that is significant to all of you. Something you’re all involved with. Something you may relate to and, better of all, something each of you may be ok with.”

He said, “These young men and girls (on the awards ceremony) succeeded in a seek for excellence.”

He said that seek for excellence occurs when “every individual is accountable for his own motion and tries to be the perfect he possibly can. They’re individuals who were willing to pay the worth.”

Also on the evening’s slate of guests were Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent, linebacker Michael Jackson and fullback Dan Doornink.

Before Russell’s death at age 88 on July 31, 2022, in Mercer Island, Wash., he was a pleased man who worked hard in his satisfying careers and passions.

He was a two-time All-American with the University of San Francisco basketball team that won 55 straight games and the NCAA championship two years running. He was on the 1956 Olympic basketball team that brought home the gold medal.

While a middle with the Boston Celtics, his NBA team won 11 championships in 13 years. He was voted Most Beneficial Player within the NBA five times in his profession. He continued as a player-coach with the Boston Celtics from 1966-1969 and was Seattle Supersonics coach and general manager from 1973-1977.

He was a trailblazer as the primary black NBA head coach, CNN reported.

Also a number one civil rights activist, he marched beside Martin Luther King Jr. and was present for King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28, 1963, on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

He withstood taunts and abuse to uphold his beliefs and principles.

Former President Barack Obama told CNN, “For many years, Bill endured insults and vandalism, but never let it stop him from speaking up for what’s right. I learned a lot from the way in which he played, the way in which he coached, and the way in which he lived his life.”

Annie Charnley Eveland is retired from the Union-Bulletin as a 42-year newspaper editor, columnist and journalist. A contract author, she produces the Etcetera column within the U-B. Send news with contact name and daytime phone number to acereporter1979@gmail.com or call 509-386-7369.

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