Bill Russell, the Celtics Hall of Famer, held court with the media this afternoon before the postponement of today’s Sox-Mariners game at Fenway Park. Russell was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch as part of the Sox’ tribute to the late Red Auerbach and the Celtics organization.
Asked about the ceremonies baseball is planning Sunday in tribute to the late Jackie Robinson, the first black ballplayer to break the racial barrier in Major League Baseball, Russell said, “You may or may not know that I was a pallbearer at Jackie Robinson’s funeral.”
The interview room at Fenway Park became silent.
“The day after he died, Rachel Robinson called me to ask if I would be a pallbearer,” Russell recalled. “When Jackie broke into baseball, I was in junior high school. To all of us, he was our hero, and here she was asking me to be one of his pallbearers.”
This, quite naturally, puzzled Russell.
“I remember saying, `Can I ask why?’ And she said, `You were his favorite athlete,’ ” Russell said. “How did I get to be Jackie Robinson’s favorite? He was a hero to all of us.
“Whenever I hear his name now, I’m very touched by that,” he added. “When I was growing up in the projects one of the reasons he was such a hero to us was because he was regarded as a scholar and an athlete.”