Bill Russell, of the Boston Celtics, was one of the best players of all time, and he did it long before Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, or LeBron James ever stepped foot in the NBA. (He actually won 11 NBA titles, so this isn’t hyperbole.)
Bill Russell: Legend, a documentary available on Netflix, focuses on Bill and his life’s journey.
The late great basketball player paved the way for future generations with this two-part docuseries, which is now streaming online with narration from two well-known figures.
Review Of The Netflix Film Bill Russell: Legend
On the court, Bill Russell was a force to be reckoned with. Off the court, Bill Russell was a force in the fight for human rights.
Bill Russell: Legend tells the remarkable story of this NBA superstar and civil rights icon. Now on Netflix. pic.twitter.com/auoZstKZJn
— Netflix (@netflix) February 8, 2023
The streaming site Netflix has become a haven for high-quality sports documentaries, and this week they add one of the most prestigious, a two-part film from Sam Pollard, the brilliant filmmaker of “MLK/FBI” and co-director of “Mr Soul!” In this chapter, the historian examines one of the most influential athletes of the 20th century, a guy who revolutionised basketball and established a winning culture in Boston that has given the Celtics their legendary stature to this day.
While “Bill Russell: Legend” recognises Russell’s significance as a civil rights icon, he is also honoured for his place on the “Mount Rushmore” of NBA players. This two-part documentary explores how important equality was to the guy who supported Muhammad Ali’s anti-war protests and sided with Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests.
Although the over two-hour running time of “Bill Russell: Legend” may seem excessive to casual viewers, it’s clear that director Adam Pollard realised that a single feature-length documentary couldn’t do justice to a guy as large in stature as Bill Russell.
Pollard has a good eye for how to put together a film like “Bill Russell: Legend,” which flows naturally from Russell’s on-court exploits to anecdotes from his life off the court, with Jeffrey Wright narrating excerpts from Russell’s memoirs. Russell, who passed away last year, changed a sport that was virtually totally white when he first entered it.
Because of his apparent fixation on body angles, I found it fascinating to learn that as a child, Russell had attempted to memorise Michelangelo paintings from library books in order to recreate them when he got home.
Through studying his opponent’s body language, he was able to anticipate where a player would take the ball before they moved. The archive game footage in Pollard’s film is incredible, as Russell consistently appears to be on another level of play than his teammates.
Unfortunately, the era in which he entered the game prevented him from receiving the recognition he deserved, even while he was shattering every record and every expectation. His all-white teammates in San Francisco never gave him any credit for leading the Dons to back-to-back NCAA titles.
The Boston sports media never appeared to give Russell enough credit, even though the Celtics won an unprecedented 11 NBA titles during his 13-year career. He never forgot what it meant to be the first Black NBA superstar.
“Bill Russell: Legend” has interviews with several of the men who followed in Russell’s footsteps, including Curry, Thomas, Rose, Bird, Johnson, Magic, Paul, Paul, and Paul. Because of how much they owe him, Shaquille O’Neal joked that all big men should give a portion of their paychecks to Russell.
The NBA analysis in “Bill Russell: Legend” is spotty at times, but the material about Russell’s life off the court is fascinating. Not only did Pollard interview Russell before his death, but he also spoke with his daughter and other coworkers from his time in Boston, all of whom refer to him as “Russell the man” rather than “Russell the legend.”
Bill Russell felt the same weight of responsibility for his employees that he did for his teammates. Someone in the documentary remarks, “He was aware of the racial weight on his shoulders,” and this fact just adds to his legacy. Whenever he wasn’t dunking on his rival, he was out on the streets with Martin Luther King, Jr. I learned from seeing “Bill Russell: Legend” that there is no simple way, to sum up, this multifaceted athlete.
In addition to being a talented athlete, he was also a creative thinker, an innovative trailblazer, and a notoriously challenging teammate. The best documentaries go deeper than a highlight reel by revealing information that not even the most devoted fans of the subject were aware of. Before working on this project, I recognised Bill Russell’s significance to the NBA. I recognise the significance of his contributions now.
The Ingredient That Made Bill Russell A Star
The history of the NBA may be roughly divided into two time periods: before and after Bill Russell’s career. He showed up in the middle of the ’50s, almost ten years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s colour barrier. Russell, not George Mikan or Bob Cousy, was the first truly modern superstar in the NBA.
Russell’s career peaked during the turbulent civil rights era of the ’60s when he spoke out openly against racism and tyranny at tremendous peril to his own safety and financial stability.
It helped that he had the best winning percentage of any professional team player in the history of American sports. Russell won 11 championships over the course of his 13-year career, including two as player-coach. Important side note: he made history by becoming the NBA’s first African-American head coach.
One could also say that in the cutthroat, the ego-driven realm of sports argument, Russell is unrivalled. How about Wilt, Kareem, Michael, and LeBron? Filmmaker Sam Pollard’s new two-part Netflix documentary Bill Russell: Legend features insightful commentary from NBA star Jalen Rose, who notes that Russell has more rings than fingers.
Despite his on-court prowess, though, Russell was a curious and complex man, which gives Pollard’s analysis emotional weight. This is quite intriguing and interesting. Although Russell’s seriousness may be daunting (he put up with no-nonsense), he also had a wicked sense of humour and, as nearly everyone who met him can confirm, a laugh that will stay with them forever.
One of the most prolific American filmmakers, Pollard has spent the past half-century documenting the lives of African Americans in our country. A pioneer in the hip-hop documentary genre, he worked on the classic Style Wars. He served as editor on six of Spike Lee’s films, including the groundbreaking documentary 4 Little Girls.
Directed by the same master storyteller who gave us outstanding documentaries on MLK, Sammy Davis Jr., Arthur Ashe, and August Wilson, among many others, Pollard expertly blends together Russell’s extraordinary career and its impact on American sports culture. Bill Russell: Legend serves as a reminder that the greatest team player of all time was also, arguably, the greatest individualist in the annals of team sports.