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Bill Russell's Celtics '61 boycott


We're in the middle of the biggest collective effort in sending a message the NBA has ever witnessed. However, the precedent for it had been set decades ago by one of the greatest teams in the league's history - the Boston Celtics of the '60s.

Back in '61, the Celtics were in Lexington, Kentucky, to play an exhibition game against the St. Lewis Hawks. Soon after arriving at the hotel, Sam Jones and Tom Sanders went to the hotel cafe to grab a bite to eat. After asking for a table, the hotel's hostess turned them away, saying that they don't serve their "kind."

Jones and Sanders were both humiliated and furious and were ready to pack their bags and leave. On their way back to hotel rooms, they ran into Bill Russell and K.C. Jones, who were also on their way to eat. 'Not in this hotel' said Jones to Russell.

They told the story to their coach Red Auerbach, and he called the hotel management right away, demanding an apology. He even secured permission for them to eat in the hotel's cafe, but at that point, it was already too late.

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“Coach, I’m not going to eat in this hotel. First of all, I’ve been embarrassed. Second of all, even if we eat here, they’re not going to let any other Blacks eat at this hotel. So I don’t want to eat here. I want to go home.”

Sam Jones, Yahoo Sports

Auerbach eventually gave in, giving his players permission to fly back home. Four Celtics were joined by their rookie teammate Al Butler, and the Hawks' Woody Sauldsberry and Cleo Hill who also refused to participate in an exhibition game out of solidarity towards their peers.

Coach Auerbach personally drove the players to the airport, before heading to the game, where the shorthanded Celtics lost to the Hawks 128-103. However, the message was sent, and that was way bigger than some numbers on the scoreboard.

Almost six decades later, NBA players are doing something similar, only on a much bigger scale. Bill Rusell, who went through an incident in '61, is 'moved by all the NBA players standing up for what is right' and is encouraging players to continue to do the same.

I told Red we were leaving. I said it was because it was important to me that everybody, everywhere, knows that the Black players are deciding they’ll stand up for themselves.

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