BOSTON — On more than one occasion, Bill Russell spoke about being "slightly embarrassed" that so much attention was being paid to him and the 6-foot-10, 600-pound statue of his likeness at City Hall Plaza.
The greatest winner in team sports, Russell made a living off of swatting away shots.
Still, there was no way he could reject the overwhelming outpouring of support for this day, a day to recognize him in such a way that seemed long overdue.
"Any other time would have been too soon," said award-winning actress Alfre Woodard who was among those to speak at the ceremony in Russell's honor. "We had to develop in deserving of this moment."
Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick, who was born in 1956 - the same year Russell came to Boston - spoke of what Russell with the Celtics meant to him as an African-American.
"From that time forward in his career, he has stood up for civil and human rights and social justice," Patrick said. "And every time he did that, it made America and my life, better."
Said NBA commissioner David Stern: "It is so fitting to have this statue here in the most important place in Boston. Because Bill's relationship with Boston wasn't always perfect. But this completes a wonderful, wonderful virtuous circle."
A scheduled public ceremony was scaled back because of the windy, rainy weather Friday. The statue was unveiled beneath a tent. About 200 spectators gathered outside the tent. Inside were VIPs, including Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Celtics owner Steven Pagliuca and a number of former Celtics.
Russell was at the Celtics' home opener against the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden on Friday night and was honored at the end of the first quarter.
Fellow Hall of Famer, former Celtic teammate and CSNNE analyst Tommy Heinsohn echoed similar sentiments about Russell at the unveiling.
"As a person, as a competitor, and all our teammates will attest to this, he was the fiercest competitor that you would ever hope to play with," Heinsohn said.
Former Russell teammate Togo Palazzi added, "He [Russell] is the most valuable player to ever play the game. You always felt secure when you were with Bill Russell. He was your security blanket. The greatest thing I could say about him was he made everybody around him better."
That spirit of giving back was instilled in Russell at an early age and stayed with him throughout his playing career.
It can now be seen in the work he does mentoring young people, which is clearly a passion for the 79-year-old, who won 11 championships in 13 seasons with the Celtics.
"I personally am a big fan of the next generation," Russell said. "We should do all we can to prepare them to take over."