Moses Malone and Darryl Dawkins this summer. Wilt Chamberlain long before that. And that’s just men who played center for the 76ers. The NBA big man who dies too soon, his heart overworked from carrying the outsize load, is an all-too-familiar story. Larry Bird recently told ESPN he is afraid he won’t reach age 75. (Well, he’s not afraid, he just believes old age isn’t in the cards for him.) Bird — always the most calculating of players — cites odds that back up his belief. “You don’t see many 7-footers walking around at the age of 75,” Bird said. (He has been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation.)
But there is the wonderful example of the NBA’s best-ever big man Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain’s old pal and foil. The gregarious Russell, a basketball and civil rights icon, is 82. When he won his 11 NBA championships as a Boston Celtic, this giant of the league stood 6’9″. So if Celtic legend Larry Bird needs to look for an example to give him some optimism, he can look across the rafters in the Boston Garden where Bird’s jersey hangs not far from Russell’s. Bill Russell, in all kinds of ways, has always been an example of how to live. He still is.
Bill Russell in his prime: