Oct. 17, 1961
After several Black players on the Boston Celtics were refused service at a coffee shop in Lexington, Kentucky, where they were scheduled to play the St. Louis Hawks, the Celtics’ five Black players — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders, K.C. Jones and Al Butler — sat the game out in protest. They were joined by the Hawks’ Black players. When Russell returned to Boston, he said that he would refuse to play anywhere else where this happened as well.
In 1963, he ignored death threats and opened an integrated basketball camp in Jackson, Mississippi, where NAACP leader Medgar Evers had been assassinated. Two months later, Russell took part in the March on Washington. Four years later, Russell joined fellow Black athletes Jim Brown and Kareem Abdul Jabbar in supporting Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. An all-white jury convicted Ali of draft evasion, but the Supreme Court reversed that conviction in 1971. “I’m not worried about Muhammad Ali,” Russell said. “He is better equipped than anyone I know to withstand the trials in store for him. What I’m worried about is the rest of us.”