He Invited Me on Stage…and I Respectfully Declined”: Late Celtics Legend Bill Russell Seen to Be Rejecting Martin Luther King’s Offer in Upcoming Netflix Documentary

Published 01/17/2023, 1:26 PM EST
PHOENIX – FEBRUARY 14: NBA legend Bill Russell sits courtside at NBA All-Star Saturday Night, part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 14, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The NBA has provided a platform for players to express their beliefs with freedom over many decades. At the same time, many players have used the NBA to voice their beliefs and the beliefs of their communities. One such legendary Boston Celtics player who used his NBA popularity to make an impact off the court was the late great Bill Russell. The 11-time NBA champ fought valiantly against a great deal of racial discrimination and social injustice during his time. Back in 1963, Russell came out in support of Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘March on Washington’. In a recent trailer of his upcoming documentary, ‘Bill Russell: Legend’, the Celtics legend admitted to rejecting Martin Luther King’s offer to stand beside him on the stage in 1963.

The world of basketball suffered a huge loss in July 2022 when Bill Russell took his last breath at the age of 88. Russell was among the earliest superstars of the NBA who made the league famous. His domination with Boston in the 1950s and 1960s earned him a Hall of Famer status in the NBA. Moreover, his contributions to social movements centered around equality for the African American community also earned him a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. Now, recent footage from his upcoming documentary suggests he once ended up declining the nation’s greatest activist, Martin Luther King Jr., during one such movement in 1963 for a very specific reason.

Bill Russell once declined Martin Luther King Jr.’s offer

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In a recently posted video by the Twitter page Strong Black Lead, Bill Russell could be seen explaining why he declined Dr. King’s offer. Russell stated, “I stayed in the same hotel as Reverend Martin Luther King. And so we met in the lobby and had a brief conversation. He invited me on the stage when he made the big speech. And I respectfully declined.”

Russell continued, “And the reason I declined was they had worked for a couple of years to put that thing together and I hadn’t done anything. And it would not be right for me to go on the stage and say, ‘Hey, listen. This is what we’ve done.’ So I sat in the first row.”

Bill Russell shared that he did not feel comfortable showing up on the stage. The 12-time All-Star did not want to take credit when he had not contributed to the building of the movement. So, Russell decided to avoid the limelight and took the front seat after declining MLK’s offer.

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Moreover, the footage is an excerpt of the final interviews given by Bill Russell before he passed away in 2022. Luckily, more of Russell’s last interviews would be featured in his upcoming documentary.

When will ‘Bill Russell: Legend’ be released?

‘Bill Russell: Legend’ is a two-part documentary in association with the Russell estate. The documentary has been directed by Sam Pollard. It will feature several NBA legends including Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and Stephen Curry, among other superstars. In addition, the documentary will be released on Netflix on February 8.

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Are you excited about Bill Russell’s upcoming documentary? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Rohit Kumawat

572 articles

Rohit Kumawat is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. Currently pursuing an MBA in Media and Business Management, Rohit holds a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He has been working as a Sports and Entertainment writer for over a year.

Edited By: Satagni Sikder

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