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Celtics honor Bill Russell with powerful pregame tribute: ‘The greatest of men’

Hall of Famer and former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell is honored prior to an NBA basketball game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday in Boston. Russell died in July. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Hall of Famer and former Boston Celtics great Bill Russell is honored prior to an NBA basketball game between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday in Boston. Russell died in July. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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As Jaylen Brown took the microphone on the TD Garden floor moments before Tuesday night’s season opener, he had the right words ready to say.

The C’s, honoring franchise icon Bill Russell, turned to their star and as expected, he struck the perfect tone.

“Bill Russell was a great man,” Brown began. “But what did that mean, what defined his greatness? Who he was as a mentor, a father, a member of his community and most certainly the 11 championships, as a player and coach.

“But undoubtedly, Bill Russell was a great man for what and who he stood for. During the peak of racial tension in our society, he represented the type of nobility and honor that transcended sports. The amount of respect he received from his people will live on in eternity, and I’m grateful to be able to shake his hand. …

“I started off by saying Bill Russell was a great man. In closing, Bill Russell was the greatest of men. In the NBA, in this organization, in this world. … May he rest in peace.”

Brown’s speech highlighted a powerful tribute as the C’s honored Russell, who died on July 31 after leading a legendary life – both on and off the court. The tribute also included a touching poem by Boston’s Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola and a strong performance by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Aloe Blacc.

Russell will be honored throughout the season both in Boston and throughout the NBA. The C’s didn’t miss in their first of two Russell tribute games this season, showing tribute videos of Russell throughout the night as they donned their Russell-inspired uniforms, which they’ll wear 10 more times this season.

“He means more than basketball,” Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. “I think he’s legacy on the court and there’s a legacy off the court for what he fought for, and for how he represented the Celtics. And I think that’s the thing to focus on the most is everybody in our organization is trying to impact the Celtics and impact the community the way that he did. And so that’s how we can focus on that and I think that’s a great segue into the game tonight.”

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