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By Marcus Thompson II

Staff Writer


I never met Bill Russell. I’ve seen him in person several times. He was whisked past me, in a wheelchair, once at Oracle Arena. Even then, his rolling presence felt like a tangible wind, a gust of aura that produced chills. The voice in your head can’t help but state the obvious: “That’s Bill Russell.” Even in a setting plush with superstars, William Felton Russell felt grander. Just seeing him was to witness a living monument of history and pride, as if the Lincoln Memorial got up and started walking.

I never met Bill Russell. Never broke bread with him. Never had a deep conversation with him. Never got close enough to see the coarseness of his white goatee or be warmed by his resilient gap-toothed smile. I never met Bill Russell, but I couldn’t escape him. Because while most superstars and celebrities exist on erected pedestals, some are still giant enough to keep their feet on the ground.

His professional success, his love for his people, and his courage did the dual task of representing his people and empowering them. He was not only an example of what was possible, that Black people could make it to incredible heights, but getting there didn’t require compromise. He was also part of the revolution that was being televised, on the platform of sports, for the inspiration of future generations.

Certainly, this view is impacted by being born and raised in Oakland, where Russell is on The Town Rushmore. Not of sports, but of impact. Russell is among the last of a critical generation. One that produced these hubs of Black success in places like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. One that went and took what was promised to them during Reconstruction but never delivered.

Russell was a pioneer of that generation, a bastion for what it represented and what it instilled. He was a pillar standing at the intersection of sports and Black progress, excellence and expectation, dominance and demand.

From about 1910 to the end of the Jim Crow era, an estimated six million Black people fled the South. They trekked north and west, preferring uncertainty over inhumanity. They arrived with the stubbornness that made them leave and a zeal for liberation. One of those hubs was Oakland, which became known for its culture of art and hustle, of resourcefulness and rebellion. The same culture currently sifting through the fingers of gentrification like sand was produced largely by this Great Migration.

Russell’s family moved to Oakland in the early 1940s. The far West had by then become known as a place where people of color could find work and community. Not only did World War II produce jobs in the area, but West Oakland, as the last stop on the transcontinental railroad, became an epicenter of commerce — for African-Americans and migrants from Mexico. It was such a robust area, San Francisco, which boomed during the Gold Rush, countered the growth of West Oakland by building the Bay Bridge, and getting in on the action at the new popular port.

After a while, the success for some Blacks in the Bay Area had people calling the likes of West Oakland and the Fillmore district “Harlem West.”

The Russells arrived not long after the Bay Bridge was completed. They were proof that not everyone who came to these parts found rampant success. Poverty waited for them in Oakland. But his father, hardened by life under White oppression, could work. His toil had benefits beyond whatever scarce financial security it provided. By the time Russell entered high school, his mother had died and his father was a steelworker holding everything together.

Shortly after Russell arrived in Oakland, a toddler named Huey Newton made the same journey from Monroe, La. to West Oakland.

Obviously, Russell went on to become a sensational basketball player at the University of San Francisco and the champion of champions with the Boston Celtics. But it wasn’t just his height and athleticism that turned him into a legend. It was the spirit of his generation poured into him. Their relentlessness. Their ingenuity. Their enduring hope for something better. Their bent on community. Their righteous indignation, which tended to spring up and overflowed into action.

As Isabel Wilkerson wrote in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “The Warmth of Other Suns,” about the Great Migration: “Those millions of people, and what they did, would seep into nearly every realm of American culture, into the words of Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison, the plays of Lorraine Hansberry and August Wilson, the poetry and music of Langston Hughes and B.B. King, and the latter-day generation of Arrested Development and Tupac Shakur.”

Add to that the character of Bill Russell, who became a lion of his time by embodying the tenets of a people. A people who got fed up enough to leave the only land they knew. Who were selfless enough to brave the journey first before sending for their loved ones.

And Russell won. He won like no one else. Oh, the overt and subliminal message that sends to people who know so much about loss. One of our own couldn’t be defeated.

In basketball parlance, Russell is often overlooked. His greatness gets lost in the quality of the footage of his highlights. His era is diminished by the evolution of the sport and recency bias. But that’s just fine because Russell doesn’t belong in sports debates. His honor transcends entertainment. His impact on history is of much greater importance, and much more connected to social progress and the perennial fight for it. He is the flex of a generation that changed the nation, of a movement to which we owe so much.

Many of the same areas boosted by the energy and capability that came with the influx of Black people were also disintegrated by a steady attack of policy and poverty. And when a dark cloud of struggle hangs over a neighborhood, those who make it from there shine like rays of sunlight. You take pride in their success. You get hope from their ability to overcome. You get your fight from their wins.

By the time my generation came around, we had new names to idolize. Rickey Henderson and Gary Payton. En Vogue and MC Hammer. But the culture made sure you also knew of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale and Curt Flood. And, of course, Bill Russell.

Every Black neighborhood has these figures. The tentacles of The Great Migration reached all over this nation. But Russell was large enough for all corners of the nation to see. His feet firmly on the soil, where the struggle was happening. His ‘fro reaching the clouds, where lofty dreams take form. Russell was indeed a monument.

Monuments aren’t exclusively for the honor of their likeness. But as a way of immortalizing what they meant. And Russell has always represented something greater than basketball. His life, his career, his accomplishments, his passion, his impact, his stature, were all symbolic of an era that birthed what now exists. An era that breathed into the future by making a bet and staking everything on it. That Black people could win.

And nobody won like Russell.



By Marcus Thompson II

Staff Writer


BOSTON — Game 6 was in the bag. The Celtics emptied their bench, resigned to the dominance of Golden State. In any other situation, Warriors coach Steve Kerr would’ve emptied his, too.

But not on this night. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green remained on the court Thursday though victory was well secured. They earned this, the right to bathe in the silence they’d spawned in TD Garden, the privilege to soak in their anointing. For they are the pillars on which this Warriors dynasty was built. They are the common denominators on the court as the franchise elevated from the cellar to the suites.

This was their encore performance. And because the occasion demanded such, Kerr subbed in Andre Iguodala, who spent his last great NBA years helping maximize their potential. So Curry, Thompson and Green got to share the moment with their favorite OG.

“Andre deserved to be out there,” Kerr said.

The NBA has its share of incredible trios. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili made San Antonio a capital of winning. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman turned the Bulls into rock stars in the late ’90s. Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy powered the epic Showtime Lakers. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish were anchors of the championship Celtics of the ’80s.

Now, the Warriors’ triumvirate must be mentioned among them. Curry, Thompson and Green. The face, the form and the fire. Their status was sealed with the Warriors dispatching the Celtics 103-90 in Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals.

They now have four championships in six trips to the finals. All of them together. In all of them they were central figures. In a year of maybes — maybe Thompson comes back from injury, maybe Green can get back to excellence, maybe Curry can still play like an MVP — the Warriors’ threesome proved to be inevitable. So many wrote them off. Even as they blitzed the Western Conference, they were still viewed as past-their-championship-primes.

But they still work, even with an entirely new cast. Because they have a coach in Kerr who knows exactly how to push them and manipulate everything around them so they can flourish. Because who they are, what drives them, and how they go about their business can be considering nothing less than a championship formula.

“Winning is the most important thing to all of us,” Green said. “Through the ups and downs, if that is the one thing that’s constant, the one thing that’s most important, you always have a center you can get back to.”

There is perhaps no better proof than doing this with Andrew Wiggins as a member of their core. A maligned stat-stuffer is now a champion because Curry, Thompson and Green are a rising tide. Their individual brilliance meshed perfectly in these playoffs to knockout all comers, like championship brass knuckles. Gold ones, though.

Their crowning achievement was defeating a Boston squad who seemed to be the antithesis of their age, athleticism and skill. Golden State’s Big Three changed the league with their style of play, recuperated, then ran through the league they changed. They’re the reason for the emphasis on shooting 3s and why every good team has a small lineup. The Celtics, and Memphis before them, were juggernauts formed from the Warriors’ influence on the modern game. And like Oklahoma City in 2016, they all went down.

They say death travels in threes.

The two years when Kevin Durant exponentiated their dominance, for many, obscured what was obvious before. But this latest championship run had at its epicenter a singular belief: when Curry, Thompson and Green are healthy and on the court together, they’re practically unbeatable.

“We trust in each other,” Green said of himself, Curry and Thompson. “We believe in each other. We put the work in together. It’s never about me with us. It’s what can we do for each other to make each other better? We believe in each other more than anyone, and there’s nothing that comes in between us.”

The two-time NBA MVP in Denver didn’t stand a chance against the Warriors’ trio. The burgeoning contenders in Memphis weren’t ready to dethrone them. The vaunted Celtics’ defense eventually wilted at their pressure. Game 6 was a live exhibition of the elitism of the Warriors’ core.

The offensive mastery of Curry was just a demoralizing force. Save for his 3-point drought in Game 5, the Celtics had zero answers for Curry, who finished the series averaging 31.2 points on 48.2 percent from the field. In the first quarter, when he got free on a relocation 3-pointer, drilling it from the right corner to end his drought, a collective gasp whooshed through TD Garden. Everyone knew, uh oh, he was back.

Even before Curry’s 3, it was Green’s deep ball that first signaled the end for Boston. He’d missed his first 12 in the series and was scrutinized mightily for his offensive struggles. But the chance to win a fourth championship straightened his aim. Golden State is 20-1 when he makes a 3. But Green’s real gem was his defense. He anchored an interior presence that held the Celtics to 19-for-45 inside the paint. The Warriors kept Boston below 100 points in all four wins.

This wasn’t the Game 6 performance worthy of Thompson’s brand. But his defense picked up significantly and he made some timely 3s as the Warriors turned around this series. There is no replacing the danger he presents defenses, which spreads the floor so the other two playmakers can do their thing.

“Individually, we all do different, unique things to impact winning,” Curry said. “We all have a sense of humility about what it takes to win and knowing that we respect what every single one of us brings to the table. But there’s also an ego with that, too. So there’s a healthy balance. And the rest of it is trust.”

By the end, they wore down the Celtics, who like most every team that faces this trio, can’t seem to contain all three long enough to win four games. That’s why they are now 23-4 in their 27 postseason series together. The only teams to beat them: the Spurs in 2013 and the Clippers in 2014, when they were still young and taking their lumps; the 2016 Cavaliers, who needed an historic comeback and multiple breaks in their favor; and the 2019 Raptors, who took advantage of injuries to Durant and Thompson.

Even with that short list of teams who can claim to best them, Curry, Thompson and Green have had to listen to their reputations be denigrated for years. How their first championship was a gift from the injury gods. How their loss in 2016 was proof they were unworthy. How their willingness to embrace Durant confirmed their unworthiness. How his departure following the 2019 loss to Toronto signaled the end of their relevance.

“A lot of chatter. A lot of doubters,” Thompson said. “But you know what, you just put that in your fuel tank and you just keep going. And it does definitely hit different.”

But they knew different. They kept the faith through their own injuries, through a pandemic, through uncertainty about the roster. The entire time, as they talked over the last couple of years about getting back, they pushed each other and supported one another. They felt in their bones. It’s fitting that they’ve now clinched two titles on 2Pac’s birthday because what they never lost were their ambitions. To ride for each other, with each other.

The only thing that could stop them was health. And it tried.

Curry, who played just five games in 2019-20, remembers learning when Thompson tore his Achilles in November of 2020 after missing the previous year with an ACL tear.

“I was Cabo on the 14th hole in Chileno Bay,” he said. “I broke down crying in the middle of the round. You don’t really necessarily know the gravity of somebody out there. That moment hit different for sure.”

But once health was secure, as long as they had a worthy supporting cast around them, they still believed. Get them in the playoffs, who was beating Curry, Thompson and Green? Teams felt closer this time around, but nobody pushed them to a Game 7.

No one was absolutely sure how to assemble the right pieces. Not even them. This trek wouldn’t be like the others. They couldn’t power through with youthful vigor like the first time. They didn’t land a superstar to blow the doors off the league again. This push had to be a meticulous reconstruction around them.

It turned out, they didn’t need another superstar. They didn’t even need a roster full of veterans. They didn’t even need a true center.

“I knew we needed to give them a chance,” Bob Myers, Warriors’ president of basketball operations, said while barefoot on the hardwood, his t-shirt and shorts soaked with Moet. “I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew we had to let them finish on their own terms. We owed it to those guys to give them that chance to get beat, because it hasn’t happened when they’re healthy.”



To say their ascension into NBA lore was improbable is an understatement. When they initially united in 2012, Curry was a major question mark because of his ankle injuries despite being the No. 7 pick three years earlier. Klay Thompson, the No. 11 pick in 2011, was mostly a reserve his rookie year. Green had just slid out of the first round to No. 35 in the 2012 draft. Nothing about when they first met suggested they’d be colonnades of an era.

The first time Curry, Thompson and Green were together was on a team bus at Summer League in 2012. Thompson and Green had already met as they were playing that year. Curry didn’t join the team until later after his eldest child, Riley, was born July 19, 2012. But he visited the team in Las Vegas to meet the youngsters and get some rehab work in.

“The first time I spoke to him was literally congratulating him on his daughter being born,” Green said. “We hung out. We did the Summer League thing. We hung out at The Palazzo, I think.

“No,” Green said, stopping in his tracks and snapping his fingers. “It was Mandalay Bay.”

This was some four months after the Warriors traded away star guard Monta Ellis, making room for Curry to be the Warriors’ star and Thompson its starting off guard. Still, back then they were scrubs in the grand scheme of NBA stardom. They weren’t yet at the cool table. They didn’t have mega shoe deals and a machine of hype behind them. Curry and Thompson were too skinny. Green too thick. All of them were too small.

Remember them then? Wide-eyed. Smooth-faced. Humble vibes. Delusional confidence with youth pastor swag. They were closer to being a boy band than an all-time triplet.

It’s been 10 years since. So many riveting victories. A few heart-breaking losses. So many mistakes were made, weaknesses strengthened, flaws improved. So much growth and reflection.



The whole time, though, their destiny was to be in an echelon with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. It’s what we couldn’t see that propelled them. What they did have, each of them, was an underdog story as a motor. And a drive to muzzle their doubters. And the faith they could do it. It didn’t take much for them to recognize similar traits in each other.

“Four years at Michigan State. Washington State. And Davidson,” Curry said, shaking his head at their humble beginnings. “No. 7 pick. No. 11 pick. And No. 35. C’mon, man. You can’t make this up.”

It wasn’t long before their respective skills and bent would start morphing together into something special. None of it was visible because they weren’t taking a traditional path to the Hall of Fame.

They all made the All-Star Game together for the first time in 2016. They flew on Joe Lacob’s private plane. It was their first taste of life in Legends Lane. They had already won a championship, and stormed the league with a 24-0 run to start the season. Next thing they knew, they were on a jet being escorted like superstars. As they looked each other in the eyes, with widened smiles over how fast it was all happening, they knew they had something special.

“A lot of it felt natural though,” Curry said, “because we all were so different, but I think from the jump we all really understood what we all brought to the table and how unique it was. And it was centered around, like, the joy of competition and winning. We didn’t really know what we’re getting into, but I think that’s the beauty. It felt very natural from the jump.”

Yeah, they built this from the mud. And the minerals in the clay from which they were molded are clearly still bountiful. Their heart. Their competitive natures. Their defensive enthusiasm. Their accountability to each other.

Their hunger for slights.

“I’ve got a memory like an elephant,” Thompson said. “I don’t forget.”

They used to hang out more when they were younger. But now they have families. They’re in their 30s. They’re each their own brand with their own obligations. They don’t get the time together like they once did.

But that chemistry they’ve built has morphed into telepathy. Winning is a muscle memory.

“They’re incredible competitors,” said assistant coach Chris DeMarco, who’s worked with them the whole way. “They all can get to another level. Especially when they need to take it there, they’ve always got another level.”

They hit a higher one Thursday night. In Boston. On the NBA’s biggest stage.

Curry, Thompson and Green completed the title run that was three years in the making. They’ve punctuated a legacy that can no longer be questioned. On the Celtics’ parquet floor, made famous by the likes of Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Bob Cousy, the Warriors’ triad reached a new realm. And they did it together.

It was enough to bring Curry to tears.


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