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What's "The Point" of Sports? Rest In Peace Bill Russell

The question of "the point" of sports is something I’ve been thinking about recently. David Ortiz entered the Baseball Hall of Fame a Red Sox/ Boston legend. Jaylen Brown for KD trade talk seems omnipresent. This morning Bill Russell died.

Are sports about winning championships, or is it better to be consistently in the hunt? (Would you trade the Lakers last decade of disaster and one title for the Celtics’ last 10 years? I wouldn’t.) Are sports about making money? The phrase "at the end of the day, it’s a business" is uttered to excuse antisocial behavior of all kinds in nearly every field in modern life, but money is a means not an end. I like to pull back and take a bigger view. What purpose does money serve? What is the social function of sports?

Professional sports teams don’t really bring much money into their cities. They don’t enrich more than a relatively small number of people relative to their cultural prominence. What sports do is cut across socioeconomic and cultural lines like nothing else can. Sports give people something in common no matter their race, age, political affiliation (most of the time), class, gender (less so), etc. Sports play a vital role in a stable and complex society. This has been true for thousands of years.

Bill Russell was not only the greatest champion is professional sports he was one of the loudest voices for social justice. Did his success as a Celtic and his unprecedented and unmatched run of titles give him a platform for that voice? Absolutely. Championships are important. They made Ortiz who he is as well.

Bill Russell didn’t just invent modern NBA defense, win 11 titles, and become the first Black head coach in the NBA. He was, and is, the gold standard for being a team first player, and a great man on and off the court. He’s in the Goat discussion for what he did on the floor, but he is a national treasure for what he did off of it. He got the point- winning in a team sport is a team objective, not an individual one, and sports are unique part of a complex society. The platform sports gives an individual with a message can help that player/person reach beyond the court or the field and make a real difference.

I have also been thinking about Tatum’s response to questions about KD. He loves this team, and he knows that winning as a team isn’t just about on paper talent. It’s about how the pieces fit, and the chemistry they have together. I agree with him. The Celtics are trying to win with a team that’s more than the sum of its parts. They’re a real team. A mostly homegrown team. They’re a team with a social conscience. They use their platform to reach beyond sports and make a real difference. This Celtics team is a fitting tribute to Bill Russell’s incredible legacy. I’m going to miss Bill Russell a lot, but I’m glad the current Celtics are following in his impossibly large footsteps.



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