Warriors broadcaster Jim Barnett describes racism Bill Russell faced

Logan Murdock

Warriors color commentator Jim Barnett has seen a lot during his time following the NBA, but perhaps what sticks out most were his experiences with Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell and the racism the Hall of Famer had to endure. 

During an appearance on the "Runnin' Plays" podcast, Barnett -- who was drafted and played one season in Boston -- shared a story about the time Russell was given a key to the city just before a game the Celtics played in a Southern state.

Following the game, the black players on the team were denied entry into a hotel because of the color of their skin. In response, Russell returned the key to the town's mayor. 

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The scenario was just one of many for the prominently black Celtics of the 1960s, according to Barnett. 

"They didn't sell out in the Boston Garden," Barnett said on the first episode of "Runnin' Plays". "They sold out in the Boston Garden for the hockey team - the Boston Bruins - every game was sold out. But not the Boston Celtics. It was a racist town."  

The face of the team was Russell, who became a civil rights leader in his own right. In 1961, he staged a boycott of a game in Lexington, Ky. after a city restaurant wouldn't serve his black teammates. In 1966, he became the first black coach in the history of professional sports.

By 1967, he -- along with basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown -- led a summit to support boxer Muhammad Ali after he refused to fight in the Vietnam War.  

However, the climate of the time affected how Russell interacted with fans. 

"I remember one time, this businessman asked for an autograph," Barnett said. "He said, 'if I weren't Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, I'd be just another N-word to him.' 

Barnett added that the NBA capped how many non-whites could be on an active roster. 

"There was a quota," Barnett said. "You couldn't have more than two or three blacks. I know that for a fact." 

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As for his interactions with Russell and his black teammates, Barnett -- a white man -- said he didn't have any quandaries working alongside his teammates. 

"We didn't have any problems," the guys I played with and against, they were there to make a living in the NBA just like I was and we were all the same."

Warriors broadcaster Jim Barnett describes racism Bill Russell faced originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

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