9:16 PM ET

We live in a debate culture and it's always about who was the best. Television, social media, and online are part of a culture of decibels where people don't learn as much as they would like. The ears are not for listening. The glasses they are for are the ones they are for.

Bill Russell's death comes at a time when the professionals are compensated for their ability to mimic fan partisans. In the past several weeks, former NBA sharpshooter and analyst J.J. Redick stated that Bob Cousy was being guarded by "Plumbers and firemen." Draymond Green said he didn't understand how the 1998 Chicago Bulls could have competed with the Warriors. Bob Cousy, age 93, and Jerry West, 84, protected their time by firing back, Cousy with a joke about how the NBA must have had the best plumbing and firemen around, West more acerbically reminding Redick he was just a one- man band.

The old-timers watched Redick dunk. The old-timers put their hands in the air. This is how we say something.

Professional respect, a lack of care for the careers of previous generations, their hardship and conditions in favor of clapbacks are casualties of this special brand of noise. It's not just performative for attention, it's deliberate. With Russell's death, there will be a cease-fire, a temporary reverence, a quiet admiration for his dignity and towering accomplishments, and a final goodbye. The Celtics won their first championship in 1957. Bill is no longer with us. Tommy Heinsohn is as well, and only a few remain -- Don Nelson, for example -- of his last.

In Boston, the Black community mourns its champion, a player and community that are grateful for each other. Dennis Johnson died in 2007. White was in the year. The death of K.C. Jones occurred in 2020. Sam Jones passed away in 2020.

Bill Russell, captain of the Boston Celtics basketball team, as seen in 1965. Russell died Sunday at age 88. Paul J. Maguire/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

It will be hours before professionals and amateur alike go back to making lists and fighting over them, even though politeness, understanding and respect should have a permanent place in our discourse. The debates will resume and Russell will be obscured because he only averaged 15 points per game over his career and only shot 45% from the floor, and there were many missed shots. Even Russell's greatest on-court feat of winning 11 NBA titles over his 13-year career is constantly threatened by the fact that there were only eight NBA teams when he was winning them.

Russell was different because of his refusal to let his athletic good fortune be separated from his life as a man. America wanted him to show how his win made them feel. They wanted his achievements to be celebrated and not appreciated. He wouldn't allow them to enter.

After being pressured by racism to leave his birthplace of Monroe, Louisiana, he was part of a heritage of incredible athletes in Oakland, California. West Oakland was the part of the city where he and Frank Robinson went to high school.

Bill Russell came to Boston because neither the ownership of the St. Louis Hawks nor its white fan base wanted a black player as its face. The Hawks traded Russell to Boston for two white players.

A new Boston Celtics team was created thanks to Russell. The Celtics had never made it to the NBA finals. The team belonged to the coach, Red Auerbach, and his star, Cousy, who basked in being the leader, the hero from the local college, but couldn't accept that he was being overtaken by a better teammate. There were no titles without Russell. He won nine titles as a coach, but not a single one without him.

The city responded to the Celtics' greatness by failing to draw attendance, by humiliating Russell, and by showing its appreciation for Black stars. Russell was uncomfortable with America's racial order and won two college titles. He won a gold medal for a country that had black children who needed national guard protection to attend school. In 1957, Russell won an NBA title for a city whose racial inequalities were so pronounced that by 1974 Boston resembled Little Rock. Russell's professional career was defined by American racism and the reaction to him for a long time was that he was too bitter to get over it. He wasn't defined by what happened to him in his homeland but by why he didn't accept it better.

A superhero's sheen to the everyday lives of gifted athletes is what sports is all about. They say iron makes iron sharper. Russell's reaction to his actions was amazing. He refused to participate in the pomp while turning slights into dominance, and thus, there can't be any comparisons between his life and that of Bill Russell. Winning 21-0 in winner-take-all games over his final two years of college, the Olympics, and NBA is not a metric for value. He made it impossible to see him without seeing America because of his greatest triumph. Russell won eight straight titles, always beating the Lakers and never losing to them in the Finals, but he also carried the cities of Alabama and Martin Luther King, Jr. You couldn't celebrate the Celtics beating the 76ers without acknowledging the fact that he and his people were treated differently. Russell made sure that one could not be assessed without the other and that the public had to look at itself in order to appraise him. The prevailing narrative for a long time was that Russell was trapped in the bitterness of his time. He was freed by not playing along. Even though he was the coach, he didn't go to the Celtics final championship parade. He was never far from the city of his fame.

During the last 15 years of his life, he stood as a powerful specter, equal parts signature laugh and distant. The NBA named the trophy after him. The Celtics were close to him. For more than 50 years, he was the living link to the birth of the game and the conscience of activism. He was not seen when he did not want to be seen. There is a Bill Russell statue, just as there is a Bird statue, a Williams statue, and an Orr statue.

Russell was irreducible and the coming days will be filled with tributes and debates. There were eleven titles. There have been eight titles in a row. He decided there was no cost of getting himself from the expectation of performance without respect. It wasn't Bill Russell who was trapped, but his former surroundings, his city and his country that were forced to reckon with their behavior and attitudes, to answer the question as to why their greatest champion often wanted nothing to do with them. More than half a century too late, Cousy wanted to reconcile his early treatment of Russell. A letter was written by him to Russell. Russell didn't reply After that, Russell was gone. Yesterday was the day. Bill Russell was already free even though he did not say or do anything.