STORIES FROM STEVE: BILL RUSSELL

BILL RUSSELL

by Steve Goldfinger

As a medical intern, I helped care for a man who was the professional at a nearby golf course., and when he learned of my passion for the game, he invited me to come and play there. I did.

When you finish your round,”  he said as he escorted me to the first tee, “come to the clubhouse for beer with some friends of mine.”  So, after my usual mediocre round of golf, I trudged up  the hill to the white-framed building where the dining area was empty save for four laughing guys sitting at nearby table: my host and his friends–Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Bill Russell’s brother.  With my dropped jaw, I could only mumble  a few words in response to their hearty welcome.

Although not a rabid basketball fan, I did tend to follow the Celtics on a near-daily basis, and I was eager to hear them talk, to glean the kind of inside information I could gloatingly share with friends. And yet, they suddenly centered on me, the doctor.  I was asked about the treatment Russell had been receiving for his ankle sprain.  I was told about the games K.C. missed because of appendicitis when they both played college basketball for USF.  We also joked about golf, how the water holes had overflowed their banks after we were done with them.

It was one of those “experiences of a lifetime.”  And yet, I thought later, we had enjoyed  ourselves at what was really a rather second rate club.  Unfortunately, the Russells and K.C. Jones were unlikely to ever be invited to any of Boston’s elite clubs. That was the way it was in those days.  Color colored a lot of attitudes.  Russell made little effort to disguise his feelings about how shabbily he was treated by Boston fans. Their hero, for sure–that black guy, for certain.  His sometimes unsuppressed insolence didn’t help.

Years later, I found myself sitting first class on a trans-continental flight, thanks to an upgrade. The compartment was almost empty. When I glanced across the aisle, there, believe it or not, was the impossibly long frame and unmistakable face of Bill Russell.  My immediate instinct was to go over and sit next to him, to remind him of the beers and jokes we had shared at that golf course so long ago,  to immediately recapture the kind of kinship one can slide into so easily over drinks at the 19th hole.

But a rush of propriety (or was it reality?) overcame me.  Why do a thing like that?  Would he even remember that remote, trivial, 40 minute episode in his life?  And If by any chance he did, would it trigger a memory of the bitterness that permeated his Boston years?  And who is this asshole, anyway, to  want to strike up a conversation?

I returned to my book.  Best to settle for one experience of a lifetime than to try to create another that could go horribly wrong.

Our “BOLLI Matters” feature writer Steve Goldfinger

Since joining BOLLI two years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side.  He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.  

 

 

6 thoughts on “STORIES FROM STEVE: BILL RUSSELL”

  1. Another great trip down memory lane, thank you Steve for all that you bring to the Blog, Writers Guild and BOLLI in general. Did you ever go to a Celtics game at the old Garden?

  2. Steve, once again I loved your story. I so enjoy your writing. I well remember those days and the racial climate permeating the Boston professional sports scene. I enjoyed reading your surprise encounter with the Celtics stars . I also clearly remember what it was like teaching in a racially imbalanced school in Roxbury in the early 60’s. Our school was predominantly black , with very limited educational resources, a physically inferior building and inferior opportunities for our students. A few of us used to go to local churches in the afternoon to offer after school programs that supplemented the academics offered at our school.Racism was alive and well in Boston. I hope we are doing better today???

  3. Thanks Steve.

    Very memorable and well written.
    It reminds me of the unusual moments in one’s life and how you really can’t “return” once the moment has passed.

    Thanks for the vignette.

  4. Aw, Steve. You shoulda crossed the aisle and at least said, “Hi!” Worst that could have happened, you’d get a Russell Stare…

  5. I loved this piece. Even with eleven rings, Bill is no longer mentioned in the “best Boston athlete “ discussions, but we know better. I still get angry and embarrassed remembering Idiotic Rick Barry asking this sports icon about “eating watermelon” during a game broadcast they did together. We were lucky to have had him around in our youth. Keep writing. I enjoy reliveing your memorable moments and would have acted on the plane just like you did.

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