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WCC celebrates Bill Russell Recognition Week

All teams wear warmup shirts donning Russell’s No. 6 for games on Feb. 2 and 4

Bill Russell shirts
Like each of the men’s and women’s basketball teams in the WCC, the members of the Gonzaga Bulldogs wore warmups with the number six on them.
Photo Courtesy of Gonzaga Athletics

The West Coast Conference kicked off Black History Month with Bill Russell Recognition Week during the first week of February.

The players of the men’s and women’s basketball teams of the 10 member institutions wore warmup shirts with Russell’s number six on it for their games on Feb. 2 and will do so again for their games on Feb. 4.

The Conference also rolled out several pieces of content commemorating his life and impact on and off the court. One video features Mike Farmer, who played alongside Russell at San Francisco.

Russell, who passed away last July 31, was a stalwart for social justice. He was the first black head coach of a professional sports franchise when he took over the Boston Celtics while still playing for them in 1966.

The hall-of-famer starred at USF and led the Dons to back-to-back national championships in 1955 and 1956. He went on to have one of the best NBA careers of all time. He won 11 NBA titles, five MVP awards and was a 12-time all-star in his 13-year pro career.

“With his recent passing, it was our way to celebrate his legacy, call attention to what a tremendous pioneer he was for basketball and social justice and hopefully keep people aware of his presence,” WCC Interim Commissioner Connie Hurlbut said. “It’s been a while since he’s had these tremendous impacts, and I think all we can do to spread that legacy, we are honored to be able to do so.”

Russell Recognition Week is the latest initiative of the conference to pay tribute to the legend. More than two years ago, the WCC enacted the Russell Rule, which established a commitment to hiring and interviewing underrepresented groups for coach and senior administrator openings.

The term underrepresented refers to groups who are minorities in the given sport or position. For example, if the majority of coaches in a specific sport are white, hiring a candidate of color fulfills the criteria. The two main areas where the conference looks for diversity are gender and race.

The conference recently announced the results of the second full year of the Russell Rule.

From August 1, 2021 through July 31, 2022, 72 of 127 hires (57%) were from underrepresented groups. In these searches, there were a total of 127 candidates from these groups. All but three of the searches met the conference’s requirements.

Seven of the 15 head coaching hires (47%) were from the underrepresented communities. Of the 28 senior administrators hired, 16 (57%) were from these groups.

In the first year of the Russell Rule, 44 of the 84 hires (52%) belonged to the underrepresented communities. In these searches, 135 finalists were members of these groups.

“I look at [the Russell Rule] as a positive trend,” Hurlbut said. “I think that it’s something that gets embedded in the institution’s athletic department culture. That that’s how we are going to proceed, and that’s where it has the most impact because it becomes part of the hiring culture… It’s supposed to really impact how you proceed without necessarily having it be something that you have to actively strive for.”

Among the 10 schools in the conference as well as the WCC office, a third of senior administrators are female and 18% are from a traditionally racial underrepresented community.

For a look at the impact on the Russell Rule, check out our previous coverage.

For more on the second year report of the Russell Rule, visit the WCC’s website.