The mayor of Marion, Ind., M. Jack Edwards, was fast asleep when he got an unexpected visit from a 6’10 black man and his teammates in the middle of the night. The 6’10 black man and his teammates were not happy.
Bill Russell and his world champion Boston Celtics had just been awarded the key to the city of Marion earlier that day in a ceremony that was cordial and celebratory of the team’s success. However later that evening, Russell and his teammates Sam Jones, K.C. Jones and Carl Braun went to a greasy spoon hamburger spot after their exhibition game in Marion. They were refused service at the restaurant.
“The place sat about 40, but there were 10 people inside,” Braun recalled in the book Tall Tales: The Glory Years of the NBA. “The hostess looked at us and said, ‘All the tables are reserved.’ All the bar stools were empty, so we started walking in that direction. Then she said, ‘sorry, those are reserved, too.’”
“We got the message and left.”
Russell and some of his teammates were so outraged that they took to the Mayor’s office to give him his key back. They weren’t standing for discrimination or any city that allows it to happen. So Russell proceeded to wake the mayor to let him know that he can take his key to the city back.
“Russell accepted that role in that situation to lead,” Celtic teammate Satch Sanders tells DIME. “We followed his leadership. He set the example and we were right there with him.”
And oftentimes where Russell would lead his team — besides to 11 championships, of course — was towards facing social injustices that were all too common in the 50s and 60s.