For about 48 hours from Sunday evening to Tuesday evening, the voices of first Bill Russell and then Vin Scully were silenced forever. This does not mean that we will never hear from them again; we will definitely be. Search, click, listen. ‘Small skating rink up the first…“Search, click, listen. “I’d kick your ass…” But these voices will no longer evolve with the world around them in the way they once did, magnificently and importantly, albeit in a very different way – Scully mellifluous and comfortable, Russell harsh and relentless – over lifetimes spanning a total of 182 years. . These were voices that carried the weight of history in a variety of vessels, but were imprinted in generations.
The rapid deployment and discarding of information in our time will quickly and effectively accelerate both people from simultaneously glorified and mourned to simultaneously shuffled across the wide expanses of the world. story, where the elegantly faded importance of long life is inexorably replaced by a hazy justice heritage. Because that’s what the present does to the past, and has always done, albeit more ruthlessly, these days, when delivery systems get today’s news into yesterday’s news more efficiently than ever. (A process that will only become more efficient.)
They were born seven years apart: Scully in 1927—the peak year of the Yankee Row-Killer Ruth Gehrig—in the Bronx; Russell in Jim Crow South (Monroe, Louisiana) in 1934 before moving to Oakland at the age of nine. Their lives were in many ways tied to their origins (like all of ours), probably in ways they didn’t understand until they came of age (same) but accepted both softly (Scully) and hard ( Russell). They were the product of their origin, their race, and their chosen profession. Likewise, Scully stayed talkative longer because his instrument of choice was literally a microphone (and a camera, although not at the beginning). Russell had basketball, and the expiration date is much earlier, although Russell’s importance has long outlived his playing and coaching career.
In a way, they were polar opposites, and not just because one was red-haired white and the other black. (Although this distinction is fundamental and vital). In the wonderful memories that flooded into Scully (and which flooded after his retirement in 2016), the word comfortable ubiquitous Those who listened to his voice while sitting, driving, falling asleep in ancient times, found solace in his reliably soothing tones. Russell was not at ease, and while his reign as leader of the Celtics dynasty from 1957 to 1969 brought joy to many, including William Felton Russell himself, it was another joy that stemmed from the brutal duality of sports that Russell understood better. all but a few others (Jordan, Belichick, Curry, for starters): one wins (usually me), the other loses (usually you); the rest is just filler.
Their lives were a mirror image: Scully grew up to be an icon respected and admired by other broadcasters and journalists of all stripes (we love nothing more than overshadowing our easy lives with tales of when it was much harder, and yes, I froze your apologetic ass in a Union College playoff game against Ithaca D3 in 1984, and don’t forget that). Scully played college football, college basketball, boxing… everything in the mid to late 1940s after leaving Fordham. He after broadcast a cold football game from the top of Fenway Park without coats and gloves, because he expected to work indoors. Respect.
By the 1950s he was playing in Brooklyn Dodgers games with Red Barber and that became the springboard for everything else. It was everywhere in the 70s and 80s. Not only baseball where he called Hank Aaron as well as Kirk Gibsonand sprinkled his broadcast with gentlemanly expressiveness, such as describing Bob Gibson as pitching “like he parked twice”, but also the NFL, where in 1981 he called Catcheach time standing up to greet the moment and then generously moving out of its way.
In practice, he spent the last quarter century of his career mostly with the Dodgers, but something else: almost by accident, he became a steward for the Dodgers. something simpler. His measured pace, subtle manner of speech, even the cut of his sports cape and impeccable hair were loved as a counterbalance to the noisy world that grew at arm’s length around him, the catchphrase obsession, heated doubles and heated arguments, and the declining interest in America’s entertainment. He was a time machine, but at the same time he was never more relevant. Where others screamed to be heard, Scully simply spoke as usual and we listened. Another word related to Scully: Treasure. It was a good word.
Few used the word for Russell, not because he wasn’t, but because it would mean smoothing out his rough edges, and his rough edges were important.
But his start: Since he was black in America, it would be ridiculous to assume that Russell’s life wasn’t hard. Of course it was. like my ex sports illustrations colleague Jack McCallum wrote in his eloquent obituary“Russell was only 9 years old when his parents arrived in Oakland, and therefore had little idea of the Jim Crow humiliation his parents suffered in Louisiana. Charles Russell was stabbed in the face at a gas station, and Kathy was told by a police officer to go home and change because she was wearing “white women’s clothing.” But the son experienced heartache and hard times on his own (his mother died when he was 12), and he also experienced violent racism, especially after coming to 1950s Boston, a city that in some ways was not in different from Monroe…”
But athletically, after a clumsy start, Russell aspired to greatness through pure talent, refinement and relentless work, the tools of the transcendent. He was fantastically sporty, and has applied this athleticism disproportionately to defense and team play throughout his career. He led the University of San Francisco to consecutive national championships in 1955–1956 (and a 55-game winning streak that lasted until John Wooden’s UCLA teams broke it) and was one of the world’s top jumpers. tallest in the world, despite poor technique. and little practice. As a pro, he owned both Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West in the column that mattered most to him: championships.
All this was followed by racism. As Russell writes in his autobiography, his USF team was harassed on the roads and banned from hotels. In Boston, even as he helped build a dynasty, his home in the beautiful suburb of Reading was vandalized and vandals defecated in his bed. He never forgot those moments (nor was he to be expected): when his jersey was hoisted up to the rafters of the old Boston Gardens in 1972, he insisted that only his teammates be present. Three years later, he did not attend his Hall of Fame induction, although he was later fondly brought back to the NBA world.
What he did was plunge into the first generation black sports activist including Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Harry Edwards and the young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others. In 2015, I interviewed Brown at his home in Los Angeles, and he recalled the summer of 1968, when Russell lived with him in Los Angeles, when their collective activity was seething and growing. “Bill was serious man,” said Brown, who had been retired for three years at the time and was himself a supremely serious man. “We talked about the state of the world as blacks in America. A lot of people came to this house.”
If Scully was every day and every night a reminder of simpler times, Russell was just as much a reminder that times weren’t so simple, and for some Americans they never were. He could laugh, a peeling cackle that can’t be forgotten, but it was that seriousness that defined him more clearly. He understood his reputation: when he was hospitalized in 2018 and then discharged, he tweeted: “Thank you all for the kind thoughts, yes, I was taken to the hospital last night and as my wife likes to remind me, I don’t drink . enough. On my way home and as most of my friends know, I don’t have the heart to give me trouble.”
He was also quick to remind any inquisitor that however you chose his legacy (that word), he was the greatest winner of all time. May be. He is on the shortest list in this debate. It’s not Wilt or West, that’s for sure.
His point of view was always important. Just like Scully. It’s trite to say that both of them will be terribly missed. But it’s irresponsible to leave it unsaid.