In his 1979 book co-written with Taylor Branch, "Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man," National Basketball association great Bill Russell talks about the first time his grandfather attended one of his basketball games.

Russell's grandfather had lived most of his life in a racially segregated South. The athlete's father had moved his family from Russell's native Monroe, La., to California when Russell was a young boy to raise his family away from that environment.

By the time Russell's grandfather saw one of his grandson's games, Russell was already an established pro basketball superstar. He had helped win two NCAA collegiate titles at the University of San Francisco - one over the Iowa Hawkeyes - and numerous NBA titles with the Boston Celtics.

In fact, by the time Russell's grandfather saw him play, he was player-coach of the Celtics -- the first African-American head coach in NBA history.

His grandfather was astounded.

"Those white men do what William tells them to?" his grandfather asked.

After the game, as Russell's grandfather walked around the Celtics locker room, he broke down in tears. He saw two Celtics -- Sam Jones, who was black, and John Havlicek, who was white -- each taking a shower side by side and talking about the game.

They were tears of joy. Russell's grandfather commented that he never thought he'd live to see the day when shower water would run off a black man onto a white man.

That happened nearly 50 years ago. Bill Russell is now 80. And, sadly, there is still reason to cry in the National Basketball Association and America in general -- that racism is still alive and well.

Contrast the elder Russell's story with the current controversy over Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's recorded comments to a female acquaintance: "It bothers me that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people" and telling her not to bring black people to games.

Those jealousy-tinged comments, released through the celebrity gossip program TMZ, earned Sterling a $2.5 million fine and a lifetime ban from the NBA. They are blatantly offensive and should have no place in our society.

As President Obama said, "When ignorant folks want to advertise their ignorance, you don't have to really do anything, you just let them talk."

But it raises important questions for each of us as to our own deep-down attitudes. What is our first reaction to someone of another color or race? Do we regard them as individuals?

The fact that those questions even have to be raised, and that incidents such as those involving Sterling, Richie Incognito and others occur, indicate we collectively still have a way to go. And not just in America, as evidenced by a separate incident in Spain on Sunday in which a banana was thrown at a Brazilian-born soccer player at a match in Barcelona.

That athlete, Danny Alves, took a bite out of the banana and threw it aside. "We have suffered this in Spain for some time," he told Fox Sports. "We aren't going to change things easily. If you don't give it importance, they don't achieve their objective."

But we must try to change things. A retired Clippers player said on National Public Radio Monday that the domineering Sterling perhaps needs some "re-education."

We would suggest there is probably a thing or two Sterling could learn from an 80-year-old retired NBA center -- a 2010 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. But maybe Sterling should start by reading his book.

(1) comment

The Prussian
The Prussian

A nicely written article but since you mentioned Spain, I might point out some more recent evidence of bias. Just a week or so ago an Israeli basketball team defeated the Madrid basketball team for an European basketball championship. The airways from Spain were filled with anti-Semitic comments. It would be well to acknowledge that bias between all minorities is alive and well.

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