Certainly 1968 was a genuine vintage year for heroes. All the Simpsons and Flemings of the world, however, must step aside for Bill Russell in terms of pride and sheer physical ability. Bill has been the lifeblood of the Celtics for 12 years, and it was high time that he was honored in such a prominent fashion. The inspiration that he instilled in the Celts was more than that of a coach to his players; it was strictly man to man, and the contagious pride of the man drove his presumably "dead" (in Philly they had already held services) veterans back to the proud tradition that is, and always will be, the heritage and essence of the Boston Celtics. You have placed Bill in his rightful place. Truly, William Felton Russell has reached the peak; none will climb higher!
Bill Russell for Sportsman of the Year? Unbelievable! SI gives due credit to his game performance as a player and a coach of the Boston Celtics, but should not a man's performance off the court, his attitude toward his fans and admirers, also be an important consideration for this award? If so, I submit that Mr. Russell could not conceivably have been the deserving recipient.
WILLIAM B. SQUIER
Wellesley Hills, Mass.
I would like to congratulate you for your truly great article on Bill Russell, Sportsman of the Year. Before reading it, I thought Russell was a cold, harsh man. You not only convinced me that he is a great athlete, but also a great person.
Although I neglected to nominate anyone for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S Sportsman of the Year award, I must vehemently protest your selection. Bill Russell should be selected Sportsman of the Decade!
I have known Bill for three years while working as a ball boy for the New York Knickerbockers. He has always been extraordinarily patient, considerate and friendly toward me. I have enjoyed numerous lengthy conversations with Bill, and his views and opinions on life, ethics and basketball have influenced me greatly. As a high school senior and future college basketball player, I proudly admit that I will always carry with me his ideals. He is one of the persons I choose to model myself after.
His physical accomplishments are awesome and, alone, are enough to earn him this honor. But his becoming the first Negro coach and leader of a professional sports team will open the gates for more minority-groups and teach people, when judging a man, to become truly color-blind.
LEWIS R. DORF
New York City
I applaud your choice of Bill Russell as Sportsman of the Year; for years, I have considered him one of the finest men on the American sporting scene. And George Plimpton's article (Reflections in a Diary, Dec. 23) was both literate and perceptive, as always. However, I was deeply disappointed by Mr. Plimpton's failure to discuss one of Mr. Russell's foremost characteristics—his commitment to positive social change and political and economic freedom for the black man in America. I fully realize SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S desire to remain basically apolitical, and over the years I have found your coverage of people and events to be both fair and above ideology. But I cannot help reflecting that during my years as a distance runner at the University of Pittsburgh and now with the University of Chicago Track Club, my appreciation for athletics and the association with people throughout the country grew with my involvement in first the civil rights and then the peace movements. Athletics is an exchange between brothers, black and white, rich and poor, American and Cuban. Rare is the athlete who does not grow as a man through his exposure to other men of all persuasions.
Forgive me for being a bit moralistic—perhaps the social worker in me is showing—but Bill Russell the athlete and coach is just one facet of Bill Russell the man, and I'm sorry Mr. Plimpton and SPORTS ILLUSTRATED chose to so limit themselves in honoring this superb sportsman.
After seeing the picture of the Baltimore Colt defense (Countdown to a Title, Dec. 23), I realize that the saying is true: one picture is worth a thousand words. That picture has more meaning than all the rest in the magazine put together. It is concise and simple, but still it means so much. Articles and pictures usually key on the offense and the backs. The defensive standouts rarely receive the recognition they deserve.
The famous Colt defense has deserved this type of recognition for quite a while, and I'm glad to see they have finally received it. My congratulations go to SI.
ALLEN F. LEIKER