The Early Years Were Hard
High school wasn't easy for Bill. He wanted to fit in; he wanted to make friends; and, he desperately wanted to play sports. Unfortunately, at that age, he didn't have an athletic bone in his body. He was taller than most, lanky, awkward and highly uncoordinated. But that didn't deter Bill from following his dream of playing sports. As a 10th grader, he decided to try out for the junior varsity basketball team.
The number of roster spots on the team was limited and it seemed as if the entire 10th grade tried out for the team. So, the coach had no choice but to deliberately trim the roster. He told the kids that after each practice, he would post a list of players that would advance to the next tryout.
After the very first practice, Bill ran to the bulletin board to look for his name. No matter how many times he read it, he couldn't find his name. Bill was devastated, heart-broken and embarrassed. After just one tryout, Bill was cut from the team. His dreams shot down forever. At least that's what he thought until a gentleman put his hand on his shoulder.
The hand belonged to George Powles, the varsity basketball coach. He had been watching the JV tryouts and saw a hidden talent in this young man. That's why George said that being cut from the JV team wasn't the end of the world. In fact, it was a good thing, because he wanted Bill to try out for the varsity team!
Bill said, "But I just got cut from the JV team!" George explained that the only thing Bill needed was experience. He simply needed to play basketball every day. So, George drove Bill to the local Boys & Girls Club, took two dollars from his pocket and paid for his membership.
Playing every day after school paid off! With George as his mentor, Bill made the varsity team as a junior. He wasn't an outstanding player, but you could see his potential. While in high school, Bill also experienced a growth spurt. He grew four inches taller and was the tallest player on the team. By his senior year, Bill was accomplished enough to earn a scholarship at the University of San Francisco where he blossomed.
In college, Bill continued to grow physically and mentally. His height was soon measured at 6' 10'' tall, and was one of the smartest players on the court. He was becoming a basketball star. In fact, Bill led the San Francisco Dons to 56 consecutive victories and back-to-back NCAA Championships.
The young man who was embarrassingly cut after his first junior varsity practice went on to fulfill his dream of being a professional athlete.The Boston Celtics drafted Bill and he subsequently led them to 11 NBA Championships, with an unprecedented 8 in a row! Did I mention Bill was a 5 time MVP as well?
Be a Mentor
Bill will tell you today that if it wasn't for the kindness, support and vision of George Powles, he would not have pursued basketball. Mentors are difference makers. Mentors change the lives of men and women every day. As Bill says, "None of us made it on our on."
By the way, Bill's full name is William Felton Russell. You know him better as Bill Russell.