SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — Although Bill Russell‘s coaching career in Sacramento was brief, a former Sacramento Kings owner said his impact was large.
“It was great that Sacramento got the opportunity to embrace Bill and him bringing his reputation into Sacramento was great,” said former Sacramento Kings owner Gregg Lukenbill.
Russell is considered Basketball royalty among many in the league and community as he is credited with revolutionizing the sport.
Greg Lukenbill, the then owner of the Kings, said when it came to hiring the next head coach, he knew who he wanted it to be.
“There was a hell of a lot of excitement in Sacramento when he came here,” he said.
Russell coached and managed the Kings for the 1987-1988 season. Lukenbill says the 11-time NBA champion and Olympic gold medalist was the right candidate because the Kings were slowly setting its roots in Sacramento.
“I was worried we were not going to sell it out and I thought bringing Bill in would be great to sell out the building, plus his personal history and winning record as a player would be great leadership skills he would teach,” Lukenbill explained.
Even though his stay was short, Lukenbill says Russell sped the growth of Basketball in the capitol city in that single year as the games that season sold out and it continued that way for years.
“Having Bill come here was almost like a recognition or acknowledgement of Sacramento in terms of national stature,” he said.
Lukenbill says after meeting Russell, it wasn’t his playing career or accomplishments that he was amazed by but it was the man himself.
“He always carried around his depth of commitment to equality, every day in his life. Which was no small feat especially in the 50’s and 60’s in Boston or in America. What he really did was try to make everybody else better with his leadership. As a human being, he was world class… he was a model in my opinion for all Americans.”