Why Pete Carroll inviting basketball immortal Bill Russell back to talk to Seahawks was different this time

Why Coach Pete Carroll inviting basketball immortal Bill Russell back to talk to Seahawks was different this time.

Why Coach Pete Carroll inviting basketball immortal Bill Russell back to talk to Seahawks was different this time.

They set up a cushy, over-sized chair under a canopy for Bill Russell just off the field, so he could watch Seahawks practice in comfort and shade.

That one and a second, for his companion, were the only chairs anywhere near the field. They were under a tall canopy, too, tall enough to shade the 6-foot-10 global icon from the 80-degree sun.

It looked like a king’s throne.

It should have. Pete Carroll and his Seahawks view Russell as royalty.

The basketball immortal came made another trip across Lake Washington from his home in Mercer Island to visit the Seahawks again, as he has multiple times during Carroll’s decade coaching the team. Carroll visited with Russell before practice one of the last half-dozen full ones before Seattle begins the regular season.

And the 67-year-old Super Bowl-, Rose Bowl- and national championship-winning coach sounded awed.

“I could have talked to him all day,” Carroll said.

The reverence in his voice was obvious.

Carroll said Russell reminded him he was one of the first 100 season-ticket holders for the Seahawks’ expansion season in the NFL, in 1976. Russell was the Seattle SuperSonics’ coach then.

There are Seahawks one-fourth the age of the transcendent, 85-year-old Russell, who size, skill and standing as a championship center at the University of San Francisco (1955 and ‘56), for the United States Olympic basketball team (gold medalist at the 1956 Melbourne Games) and the Boston Celtics (11 NBA titles in 13 years through 1969).

Yet 20-something Seahawks who’ve grown up thinking the NBA began with Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson or maybe LeBron James know who Russell is, and what he stands for.

“Oh, yeah,” Carroll said, “they do now.”

Carroll insists on it.

For years Carroll has had Russell talk to the Seahawks in team meetings about what it takes to be a champion, about leadership and sacrifice and how to succeed not just in sport but in life.

As a coach after his unparalleled playing days, Russell led the Sonics to their first NBA playoff series as a franchise in 1975.

In 2011 President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which with the Congressional Gold Medal are our nation’s highest civilian awards.

“He’s given us some real interesting and important insights that we were talking about with our guys throughout camp since we been back,” Carroll said. “It’s been really fun for me. There’s always new stuff. There’s always things to learn and always things to grow by.

“I owe so much to Bill in the messaging that these guys are hearing. I can hear it in their conversation and when they get their chance to participate. I can hear Bill’s words and his thoughts creeping through our guys’ mentality.

“I’m not even sure that they realize how significant it is that it was so directly connected to a guy that lives right across the water here.

“I know they were thrilled to see him today. He’s a treasure and we’re lucky he’s around our parts.”

Russell has written 11 books. One of his most popular ones, published in 2002, is entitled Russell Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership from the 20th Century’s Greatest Winner.

“I’ve always loved Bill Russell and his story and his background, but somehow I missed the book Russell Rules during my time,” Carroll said.

“This summer I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon it but, I found it, took a look at it, got to reading it. It really inspired the heck out of me, because there’s so much depth in the book talking about team, and talking about being a good teammate, and the significance of chemistry in a team.

“And Bill was the epitome of making a great team. He was a great player, obviously; he is the all-time champion in the history of anything. But he was never the leading scoring on any of his teams. Not on the gold-medal team. Not on the back-to-back national-championship teams (at the University of San Francisco). Not the 11 of the 13 (NBA titles for the Celtics).

“He was never the highest scorer on his team, ever.

“But he made everybody else great.”

Carroll said reading Russell’s book recently gave him a deeper purpose in having Russell talk to the Seahawks Tuesday.

“I went about it differently this time, because of the insights I had from this book that just moved me.” Carroll said. “I think everybody should read it. It has to do with family, and companies, and corporate, and sports and everything.

“To know how powerful of a factor he was, to win so much for so long on every level, at everything he ever touched…he’s incredible.

“He’s a treasure.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.

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