It was super cool to see Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell in attendance in Washington, D.C., on Monday morning at the inauguration of President Barack Obama for his second term in the Oval Office. It's not necessarily surprising — after all, the 78-year-old Russell was not only an exemplary athlete and champion, but also a proud, tireless advocate for civil and human rights who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Obama has previously recognized Russell's contributions to both sport and society by honoring him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. But still: Pretty cool.
A bit less cool: Russell's identification by ABC News correspondent George Stephanopoulos, one of the hosts of the network's coverage of the inauguration festivities, as captured by closed captioning and Deadspin's Timothy Burke:
Not quite. (Screencap via 30fps.mocksession.com)
[Y! News: More on President Obama's inauguration]
To his credit, Stephanopoulos quickly corrected himself — perhaps after realizing that the man on his screen was wearing a hat with a Celtics shamrock logo (complete with Russell's No. 6, retired by the team in March 1972, in the top leaf of the clover) — before moving on with the rest of the broadcast. We're betting Mr. Russell wouldn't have minded the case of mistaken identity all that much; for one thing he had much bigger, and better, stuff to think about this morning, and for another, he loved "The Bucket List."
(NOTE: Last item might be false)
Here's video of the slip-up as it happened:
And here's what the president had to say about Russell when awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in February 2011, via ESPN Boston:
When Bill Russell was in junior high, he was cut from his basketball team. (Laughter.) He got better after that. (Laughter.) He led the University of San Francisco to two championships. In 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, he won 11 championships — a record unmatched in any sport. Won two while also serving as the team’s coach. And so happens, he also was the first African American ever to hold such a position as a coach in a Major League sports team of any sort. More than any athlete of his era, Bill Russell came to define the word "winner."
And yet, whenever someone looks up at all 6 feet 9 inches of Bill Russell — I just did — (laughter) — I always feel small next to him — and asks, "Are you a basketball player?" — surprisingly, he gets this more than you think, this question — (laughter) — he says, "No." He says, "That’s what I do, that’s not what I am. I'm not a basketball player. I am a man who plays basketball."
Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men. He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow. And I hope that one day, in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man.
Hat-tip to SB Nation's Luke Zimmerman.
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