WASHINGTON DC - FEBRUARY 15: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) presents Basetball Hall of Fame mamber and human rights advocate Bill Russell the 2010 Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House February 15 2011 in Washington DC. Obama presented the medal to twelve pioneers in sports labor politics and arts. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday, Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, along with Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and Baseball Hall of Famer Stan Musial, among others. It's the highest civilian award in the U.S., and recognizes those who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
More than that though, Obama took the opportunity to bring up the topic of a Bill Russell statue. Or rather, the lack of a Bill Russell statue (a subject originally addressed by Paul Flannery). Said Obama:
"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."
Apparently "all" it took was the President of the United States to bring it up, because now, some 42 years after he stopped playing, the Celtics have "already begun the process," according to co-owner Steve Pagliuca (via the Herald).
"We've had preliminary discussions with most of the constituencies, and the mayor (Thomas Menino) wants it to happen, President Obama wants it to happen, and," said Pagliuca, "we're going to really try to help make it happen.
"I think this final push from the president is great for us and great for Bill.
"We started looking at this in the last six months, and we talked to all the right people and so far all the people are very interested and very supportive. It's been great, and hopefully something will happen very soon."
A long time coming, and as CelticsBlog says, "Who's more deserving?"