New England on a Pedestal

110. The Secretary of Defense

May 03, 2023 Doug Farquharson Season 1 Episode 10
110. The Secretary of Defense
New England on a Pedestal
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New England on a Pedestal
110. The Secretary of Defense
May 03, 2023 Season 1 Episode 10
Doug Farquharson

We move further downtown from our previous episode and switch sports for this one.

Show Notes Transcript

We move further downtown from our previous episode and switch sports for this one.

Hello and welcome to Season 1, Episode 10 of the New England on a Pedestal podcast where we are going to continue with a theme started in the last episode where we talked about some famous Boston Sports figures. Specifically, we discussed statues outside of Fenway Park depicting some Red Sox greats including Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, and Carl Yastrzemski, among others.

I grew up in Boston and have lived in the area my whole life. One thing that stands out about Bostonians in particular, and New Englanders in general is a love of the local sports teams. We’ve had our share of both good and bad seasons with all the major league teams over the years. We tend to be passionate about our sports too. Depending on who you’re talking to, one sport is great while another is the worst thing they've ever watched. One athlete is the goat while another is a bum!  Yesterday’s hero can quickly become today’s zero, too. We’ve had some big names wear our uniforms. Babe Ruth, Bobby Orr, Yaz, Big Papi, Bird, The Chief, Brady, Gronk, Chara. The list goes on and on. The rafters in our stadiums, parks, and fields are filled with championship banners and retired numbers. And in some cases, as we discovered in episode nine, outside these sporting venues you’ll find a statue or two dedicated to some of the greatest of the greats. But sometimes these statues are located somewhere else as is the case for this next one. You can find a statue of one of the all-time great basketball players in Boston’s City Hall Plaza. The area around Boston’s concrete and brick City Hall is a large brick paved area that has hosted everything from protests to celebrations and farmers markets to skating rinks. The building itself is a classic example of the brutalist architecture style of the modernist movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Built during a time in America that saw huge and sometimes violent protests over the Vietnam War and civil rights, the building features things like limited and easily defended access points and windows that were designed to be difficult to reach with projectiles. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Constructed between 1963 and 1968, the city hall and plaza sit where Scollay Square once was. You may recall the famous Kingston Trio song, Charlie on the MTA. Scollay Square station was where Charlie’s wife would come every day at quarter past two to hand her husband a sandwich as the train came rumbling through. One end of the plaza now features an entrance to the subway system below. Over the years there have been multiple studies and efforts to improve the plaza and make it more friendly. The latest was completed sometime in 2022, I believe, adding more seating areas and playscapes.

This is where we are heading. So, who will we find there?

We find the statue situated by both Boston City Hall and the site of The Boston Massacre, intentionally placed here beside a seat of political power and a historic site where Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Indigenous ancestry was killed by British troops and became a rallying cry in the years leading up to the American Revolution.  The basketball player himself stood six feet, ten inches tall, but his statue is even taller, portraying him as being larger than life as many of his fans saw him. He is depicted with the ball pressed between his large hands preparing to throw a chest pass to a teammate. Around him are eleven granite plinths, representing each of the championships he won with the Boston Celtics. There are various quotes etched into these stones and there are two statues of young children climbing on them representing his work and mentorship with youth. As news of his death at the age of eighty-eight on 31 July 2022 got out, fans arrived here to lay flowers at his bronze sneakers and to pay tribute to a man who was a true champion on and off the basketball court.

The man who would eventually wear #6 on his Boston Celtics jersey was born in 1934 in Louisiana which was still a segregated area where he and his family witnessed racism and bigotry firsthand. He moved to California with his family during World War II when he was eight years old. His mother died when he was just twelve. His father changed jobs then so that he’d be home more and be able to raise his children more effectively. He was exposed to the game of basketball as a kid and has been described as having moderate talent but lacked fundamental knowledge of the game. He was even cut from his junior high team and almost cut from his high school team. However, his coach saw something in him and began working with him. He bucked the traditional style of defensive play of the day and became a vivacious reader of sporting magazines where he could study players’ moves and then anticipate what an opposing player was about to do on the court. He was ignored by virtually all the college recruiters until Hal DeJulio came along and got him a scholarship to play at the University of San Francisco. Here he developed the skills that would take him to the NBA. He led USF to NCAA championships in 1955 and 1956. He was drafted by the Boston Celtics in 1956 by the legendary cigar smoking coach Red Auerbach in a series of moves and deals. And what a draft it was as Red managed to acquire three future hall of fame players, KC Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, and the subject of our podcast today. After being drafted, but prior to actually playing professionally, he helped lead the US National Mens Basketball Team to winning the Gold Medal game at the 1956 Olympics held in Melbourne, Australia. Shout out to Anita!

And thus, in December of ’56 began the legendary pro career of none other than Bill Russell. He became a dominant player in the league, playing fierce defense and contributing to the offense equally. In his thirteen years with the C’s, he won eleven championships, two of those as a player-coach. He was the first black head coach in the NBA and the first to bring home a championship. He was the NBA MVP five times and made the All Star team twelve times. He’s been named everything from Sportsman of the Year to Player of the Decade by various sporting news outlets. He made all four of the NBA Anniversary Teams. The accolades go on and on. Former NBA player and head coach Don Nelson said: "There are two types of superstars. One makes himself look good at the expense of the other guys on the floor. But there's another type who makes the players around him look better than they are, and that's the type, Russell was."

Indulge me for a moment as I point out a New England on a Pedestal podcast connection between this episode and our very first one back some time ago. At the time Russell was signed by Auerbach, the owner of the Celtics, the man who authorized his $24,000 rookie contract, which was quite high for the time, especially for a black player, was Walter A. Brown, the son of George V. Brown, known to our listeners as The Starter whose statue in Hopkinton sits at the starting line of the Boston Marathon. Go back and give episode one a listen if you haven’t already. Now back to our regularly scheduled episode…

Off court, Russell was an ardent supporter of the civil rights movement and one of the earliest professional athletes to lend his name, stature, and fame to a political or social movement. In 1961, he helped organize the first player boycott when two of his fellow black teammates were refused hotel service while on a preseason road trip to Kentucky. In 63 he was at the March on Washington and in attendance at MLK’s I Have a Dream speech. In 67 he joined several other black professional athletes in supporting Muhammed Ali and his decisions involving the draft and the War in Vietnam. Then there’s a story related by teammates Tommy Heinsohn and Sam Jones after Russell’s passing. They spoke about him receiving the key to the city of Marion Indiana but later when the team went to a restaurant to eat, the black players were refused service. Russell grabbed the key, hailed a taxi, went to the mayor’s house and woke him up at 2 o’clock in the morning to return the key since it obviously didn’t work.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barak Obama in 2011 who said of Russell, "He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players and made possible the success of so many who would follow. I hope that one day, in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man." Designed by artist Ann Hirsch, that statue was unveiled two years later. Russell continued speaking and acting against racism and bigotry throughout his life. The young boy and girl depicted climbing on the stones represent Russell’s lifelong efforts at mentoring youth and ensuring that they grew up with opportunities and dignity for all regardless of their background.

The Celtics retired his number in 1972. The NBA and the Players Association retired Number Six, league wide, after his passing. He is the very first player to receive this honor. Bill Russell was truly a legend on and off the basketball court. Next time you’re in the area, grab a bite to eat from the nearby marketplaces or street vendors and take a seat in the shadow of this great American.

Russell’s teammate and longtime friend, Bob Cousy has his own statue, too. Hop on the Pike or take Route 9, but head west to Massachusetts’ second largest city, Worcester and go to the DCU Center.  On the plaza outside, you’ll find the statue depicting the “Houdini of the Hardwood” throwing his signature behind the back pass. The point guard led the nearby College of the Holy Cross to an NCAA title in 1947 as a freshman and won six championships with the Celtics. He was the MVP in 1957 and thirteen time All Star. His number 14 hangs retired in the rafters above the Boston Garden’s parquet court. The Couse shares many of the same convictions and has received similar accolades as Russell. His Alma Mater, Holy Cross, also has a statue dedicated to him on their campus.

If you choose to visit The Woo, be sure to head to Green Street and check out the many fantastic eateries and taverns there. Worcester is one of my favorite places to go for a night out on the town. There’s plenty to see and do from art museums, to live music, local breweries, and as mentioned, fantastic restaurants. If you’re a fan of delicious IPAs, then grab a Pulp Daddy at Greater Good. You won’t be disappointed!

Professional athletes today have many more means of communication at their fingertips than ever before. TV, radio, social media, podcasts. The list goes on and on. Some pitch a personal product line. Some are spokespeople for big brands. Some use their fame for great causes. Some should probably just stay home and keep quiet. Bill Russell was one of the first athletes to speak up and try to leverage his visibility and fame into something bigger than himself. He approached life like he played ball. It’s a team sport. One superstar doesn’t carry the whole team through the long season and expect a ring. It takes effort from everyone, a team effort. A good leader knows how to make the team shine. Knows when to pass that ball instead of taking that shot himself sometimes. Knows how to build up the younger teammates and encourage them to perform at their best. Even after he hung up his jersey and his number 6 headed up to the Garden rafters, Russel continued in that same vein. I’d like to think his efforts have made a difference. Things are better now than in years past but we all still have a long way to go. Let’s keep at it. I wonder which pro athlete’s statue my grandkids will be talking about someday.

As we mentioned before, the concept behind New England on a Pedestal is rather simple. Travel around our six-state area, find some interesting statues, and discuss them. We have a growing database of statues, monuments, sculptures, and memorials that we will be covering over time, but we certainly do not know all of them. We’re putting together a list of people and places we’d love to talk to and visit for future episodes. You can assist us. Shoot us an email at and tell us about a favorite or unique or odd statue you know. If you have additional information or maybe a correction about something we have already shared, please send it our way and perhaps, we will add an addendum to a later episode. Let us know what you think. What are we doing right? What can we do better? We can be reached via email at That’s New England on a Pedestal all one word at F A R Q I E dot com.  Go to Facebook and like the New England on a Pedestal page. Follow us on Instagram.

As usual, I want to thank Sam, Jake, and Jason for their help and talent with the theme music and logo artwork.

Join us next episode when we finish this sports themed trio of episodes just down the road from City Hall. Any guesses where and who? Until then, be safe, be well, and keep discovering. Thanks for dropping by!