George Vecsey Profile of Bill Russell Offers a Stunning Vignette
With his usual lyrical prose, George Vecsey stepped away from his New York Times column in Sunday's paper for an excellent profile on Bill Russell, on the eve of Russell receiving a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
As Vecsey notes, Russell is about a lot more than being the best center in basketball history, though that would be enough.
Russell was a shotblocker against all others must be measured now and forever. But as ferocious as he was on the parquet floor of the old Boston Garden for so long, there was a tender side Vecsey was able to reveal when talking about Ruseell and his third wife Marilyn:
He and Marilyn were invited to the Obama inauguration in January 2009, but she was dying of cancer in Seattle. She urged him to go, but when he landed in Washington, he heard she had taken a downward turn, and he got back on a plane.
“We held hands and watched the inauguration,” he said. “We sat there all night, and then I said, ‘Listen, I’m going to take a shower, now wait for me, I’ll be right back,’ and she said she’d wait. Well, as soon as I left she died. So I said to the nurse, ‘She promised she would wait,’ and the nurse said this happens quite commonly. A lot of people don’t want their loved ones to see them die. And so it was like we shared this moment together and she did not want me to see her die.”
If Russell choked up telling this story, Vecsey does not tell us. Suffice to say, more than a few people reading this article must have.