Part One of BILL RUSSELL: LEGEND on Netflix recounts the amazing life story of one of the greatest NBA players, Bill Russell. Russell led the Boston Celtics to a record 11 NBA Titles in 13 years. The movie shows that Russell was determined to crush racism by being the best basketball player in the world and supporting integration. It sets up his friendly yet fierce rivalry with the equally legendary player, Wilt Chamberlain and pictures his early married life.
BILL RUSSELL: LEGEND: PART ONE is not only a biography of the basketball legend’s life, but also a vital history of the Civil Rights Movement from a new perspective. Director Sam Pollard and NBA archivist Jim Podhoretz team up to find a dizzying array of footage that rivets viewers from start to finish. Interviews with other basketball legends, and Russell’s surprising bursts of humor and infectious laugh, also make this documentary highly entertaining. BILL RUSSELL: LEGEND: PART ONE has strong moral, pro-capitalist elements. It promotes hard work, teamwork, family, and fighting against racism. However, it has two obscenities that warrant caution for children.
(Pa, BB, CapCap, H, C, L, V, D, M):
Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:
Mixed worldview with moral, pro-capitalist elements that promote striving for success, hard work, teamwork, family, and fighting against racism in the 1950s and early 1960s but it is put mostly in a light humanist context, although a major side character in one scene makes a positive comment about God, another character thanks God, and there are three images of the title character standing next to a Catholic priest without an explanation, plus one man jokes that the title character Russell was so successful at winning championships, “he would beat God”; Language: Two obscenities (one a** and one “s” word) and a borderline light profanity comes right after a side character makes a positive statement about God in a speech (in context the profanity seems partly like a statement of praise and wonderment of God’s blessing in the character’s life)
Brief non-graphic shots of whites taunting and pushing blacks protesting for civil rights, all black and white and archival, and plenty of footage from professional basketball games with players jostling against one another physically, etc.
Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:
Some smoking, but no drugs; and,
All manner of racial prejudice and harassment is discussed throughout the movie, depicting the very difficult social circumstances that Russell and other black players had to handle, and the title character sometimes is a little bit contradictory, being sometimes aloof and sometimes engaged with other people.
Part One of BILL RUSSELL: LEGEND on Netflix recounts the amazing life story of one of the greatest NBA players of all time, Bill Russell, who was determined to crush racism by being the best player in the world. BILL RUSSELL: LEGEND: PART ONE has countless shots of the amazing ball-handling and rebound skills of the basketball giant, inducing awe in viewers, and also explains the impact Russell had on the game, including his drive for racial equality both on the court and in the streets.
Russell’s complex life is told in three distinctive ways throughout the movie, as actor Corey Stoll performs the overarching narration, while actor Jeffrey Wright frequently reads excerpts from Russell’s memoir “Second Wind.” In between are a stunning array of sports legends eager to share their thoughts and recollections, including Russell’s white teammate Bob Cousy, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Oscar Rvertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell, who provides the perspective of fans.
The movie opens detailing Russell’s incredible achievements, having earned nine NBA championship rings as a player and two more as a player-coach, all with the Boston Celtics. He also was a five-time NBA MVP, but an early montage shows that his other passion was breaking the glass ceiling that black athletes faced during Russell’s heyday in the 1960s.
The movie spends lots of time on his childhood and his parents’ high standards for him. His mother turned him onto the world of books and all kinds of learning by insisting he hang out in the library of Oakland, Calif., where they had moved to escape the racism in the South.
Basketball was his real ticket to greatness, as he rode a great high school career into college stardom and world-class playing on the US Olympic team. He was drafted highly by the Boston Celtics into the NBA. However, despite his efforts, he always battled racial discrimination every step of the way. For example, after he finally earned some respect from the white suburban community of Redding, Mass. outside Boston, where he and his wife had decided to settle, his family had to endure a racist petition against them when they wanted to move into a bigger house in the city.
The movie also sets up Russell’s friendly yet fierce rivalry with the equally legendary player, Wilt Chamberlain and pictures the family life that kept him strong. While totally engrossing, it sets up the perhaps even more engrossing PART TWO.
Part One of BILL RUSSELL: LEGEND is not only a biography of the basketball legend’s life, but also a vital history of the civil rights movement from a new perspective. Director Sam Pollard and NBA archivist Jim Podhoretz team up to find a dizzying array of footage that rivets viewers from start to finish. The interviews with other basketball legends, along with Russell’s surprising bursts of humor and infectious laugh, makes this movie highly entertaining as well.
BILL RUSSELL: LEGEND: PART ONE shows Russell as a man who always worked his hardest to succeed. Much of this was driven by his desire to break down racial barriers. For example, Part One details Russell and Wilt Chamberlain’s battle to break pay barriers for blacks, to wind up being two of the highest paid players of their time. It also shows some of Russell’s efforts to support the Civil Rights Movement off the court.
Part One has strong moral, pro-capitalist elements. It promotes striving for success, hard work, teamwork, family, and fighting against racism. There are also two positive references to God by other characters, including one of the movie’s major side characters, Russell’s white teammate Bob Cousy, who helped Russell and other black players like Sam Jones and KC Jones win Boston’s early NBA titles in the late 1950s and early 60s. However, these elements are placed in a light humanist, secular context, so the movie’s worldview is mixed. BILL RUSSELL: LEGEND: PART ONE also has two obscenities. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises caution for older children.
Bill Russell died in 2022 at age 88, but BILL RUSSELL: LEGEND: PART ONE keeps his legacy vibrantly alive.
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