photo & text by nacrowe
written between the 1965-66 season after having won eight of his eleven total championships with the BOSTON CELTICS (whom i despise more than you can possibly imagine), GO UP FOR GLORY (PENGUIN, 1966) is a memoir by BASKETBALL legend and CIVIL RIGHTS icon BILL RUSSELL that is as much about the fight for human dignity as it is about professional competition at an elite level.
i found this book to be fascinating in how RUSSELL presents the reader with an isnide perspective on the beginnings of the NBA as a business and how race played a part right from the start. i had no idea that ABE SAPERSTEIN, founder and owner of the HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS effectively strong-armed the league into limiting integration for years. he did this through threatening team owners with boycotting their stadiums (all the original teams were created by owners of arenas, the league much like professional hockey was an excuse for attendance). RUSSELL was the second BLACK player to ever play for the CELTICS and there was very much an unpublicized but very hard quota on the number of BLACK players on each team throughout the late 50s and early 60s.
RUSSELL fought this injustice by being outspoken about the quota.
due to my time in high school in MASSACHUSETTS, i will always hate all professional teams from that region, especially the CELTICS and RED SOX. but RUSSELL is beyond reproach even in my knee-jerk insane fandom. not to lionize him too much, but like that of MUHAMMED ALI, JIM BROWN, JACKIE ROBINSON, KAREEM ABDUL-JABAR, ROBERTO CLEMENTE and COLIN KAEPERNICK, he is a the embodiment of a deeper humanity we should all aspire to and very much took took risks when others didnt for the sake of everyone.
for me this book is very compelling since RUSSELL showcases a period when the CIVIL RIGHTS movement was very much in its nascent stages from the perspective of a national sports figure. the striking thing is how such a platform rendered him nothing outside the confines of the basketball court. in the arena he was unstoppable, outside he was just another target of dehumanization by a racist backward society bent on its own destruction.
i could go on about this, but even during the height of his playing career (he still had another three championships to go!) he somehow had the perspective to recognize the importance of the moment and the courage to share his unique perspective as a prominent professional athlete in a nation that dehumanized him. i cant even begin to imagine the courage. its like LEBRON JAMES staring down FOX NEWS expanded exponentially.
deeply impressive memoir by an AMERICAN icon. should be read in schools. end stop. or at least i should have been given the option to back in the day instead of the recycled meaningless dribble they force down your throat.