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Russell still tallying assists

Legend honored for his mentoring

Bill Russell talks with Mayor Thomas Menino in Russell’s first public appearance since the announcement he’ll get a statue. Bill Russell talks with Mayor Thomas Menino in Russell’s first public appearance since the announcement he’ll get a statue. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
By Julian Benbow and Gary Washburn
Globe Staff / May 18, 2011

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Bill Russell grinned as he stood to make his slow stroll to the front of the EMC Club at Fenway Park yesterday.

The Celtics legend was being honored with a Champions of Mentoring lifetime achievement award by the Mass Mentoring Partnership. It was his first public appearance in Boston since the announcement early this month by the city and the Celtics that he would be honored with a statue in Boston.

To a room of nearly 300 supporters and community leaders, Mayor Thomas Menino had just praised Russell for what he meant to the city both as a Hall of Fame basketball player and a socially conscious public figure.

“Bill Russell raised a lot of banners, but also he broke down a lot of barriers in our city,’’ said Menino. “That’s why we’re here today.’’

With that said, Russell looked into the crowd and responded, “I’m very flattered by all this attention, but there’s something you should know. As you get older, certain things in your body break down. My current affliction is, I can’t hear anything he said.

“I would have been embarrassed by the things that Tom Menino said and all the nice folks have said, but I didn’t hear a word they said.’’

Russell, 77, joked about the statue, “It makes me a little uneasy because it seems almost like a tombstone. I don’t want to engrave my tombstone yet.’’

Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca and Hall of Famer Tom Heinsohn sat with Russell during the breakfast. Heinsohn will head the committee that will design the statue.

“A very difficult time in this city’s history, and Russell proved that he was his own person, which was very difficult to do in those days,’’ Heinsohn said. “He stood tall and he represented a great organization.

“I think, through him, it taught the city teamwork and how people could get along.’’

Yesterday, however, Russell was more concerned with advancing his cause of mentoring area youth. The Mass Mentoring Partnership is administering the Bill Russell Mentoring Grant Program.

“In my high school around the stage was a poem by James Russell Lowell,’’ Russell said. “The poem said, ‘It is not what we give, but what we share. Because the gift, without the giver, is bare.’ ’’

He also told how his mother gave him Felton as a middle name after Felton Clark, a former president of Southern University in Louisiana.

“It was a reminder that his goal was to get to college,’’ Russell said. “I’m trying to share that with the next generations of Americans.’’

Surgery for Rivers Celtics coach Doc Rivers had surgery to remove a noncancerous growth from his throat. The procedure came seven months after Rivers had a biopsy to determine whether lesions on his throat were cancerous. The tests came back negative, but Rivers wasn’t on the bench for a preseason game against the Nets Oct. 20. Rivers said at the time, “Family-wise, because we have some history with my father-in-law, who died of throat cancer, anything in that area alarms everybody. So the family’s always concerned with stuff like that.’’ Last week, Rivers signed a five-year, $35 million contract extension.

Interest in Frank Celtics assistant coach Lawrence Frank appears close to returning to the NBA head coaching ranks. He has received permission from the Celtics to interview for the vacant Golden State position. Frank already has interviewed twice for the Houston job and is considered one of the top candidates on the market. In his first season with the Celtics, Frank served in a defensive coordinator-type role. He was head coach of the Nets for parts of seven seasons, leading them to four playoff appearances. If Frank departs, the Celtics would have to find another defensive coach, and it would be a critical hire in what is expected to be the final go-around for the Big Three. Dallas assistant Dwane Casey, former Cleveland coach Mike Brown, and Celtic great and former Minnesota coach Kevin McHale are candidates in Houston along with Frank. The Warriors have been slower in their coaching search but also have received permission to interview Lakers assistant Brian Shaw, an Oakland native.

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com; Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com.

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