Friday, August 19, 2022

Why Bill Russell was much more than just a legendary athlete, plus Deebo Samuel gets paid

Happy Monday morning, everyone, and welcome to August. I hope you’re doing well. We have a few big stories to get to immediately, so today’s newsletter has a slightly different format than normal.

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Remembering Basketball Hall-of-Famer and sports icon Bill Russell 🏀

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Sacramento Kings

USATSI

Bill Russell, the 11-time NBA champion and a civil rights activist, died at 88 “peacefully with his wife Jeannine by his side,” his family announced Sunday. Russell spent his entire 13-year career with the Celtics, with nine of his titles coming as a player under the legendary Red Auerbach and the final two as a player-coach.

Known as the greatest champion in the history of team sports, Russell racked up a multitude of individual accomplishments:

  • Twelve All-Star appearances
  • Five MVPs (only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has more with six)
  • NBA 25th, 35th, 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams
  • Inaugural NBA Lifetime Achievement Award (in 2019)
  • Namesake for the NBA Finals MVP since 2009
  • One of five people inducted into Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player (in 1975) and a coach (in 2021)

You can see Russell’s accomplishments by the numbers here.

Russell’s path to building the legacy he did was truly remarkable — and required incredible perseverance. Born in Louisiana in 1934, Russell wasn’t a well-known recruit and eventually made his way to San Francisco. He then led the Dons to back-to-back national titles in 1955 and 1956 and also won an Olympic gold medal in 1956.

The No. 2 overall pick that year, Russell became the backbone of the Celtics’ dynasty while also being one of the most socially conscious athletes of his time. He appeared at Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech and supported Muhammad Ali after he refused to join the military.

In 1966, Russell became the first Black head coach in major American professional sports, and our NBA expert Sam Quinn writes he “did the impossible” by winning two titles as a player-coach.

  • Quinn: “By the last one, he was a single-digit scorer playing in his final NBA game. To this day, he is the only player-coach ever to win an NBA championship. … By that point, Bill Russell the leader was far more important than Bill Russell, the basketball player. Whether he was pioneering the concept of bulletin board material as a motivational tactic or guiding a racially divided locker room through the assassination of a civil rights leader, Russell could bring out the best in anyone and everyone around him.”

Many of the game’s all-time greats as well as present-day stars have paid homage to Russell on social media.

Decision on potential Deshaun Watson suspension expected today 🏈

NFL: Cleveland Browns Minicamp

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The NFL‘s decision regarding potential discipline for Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson is expected to come today, as reported by CBS Sports NFL Insider Josina Anderson. The NFL is reportedly pushing for an indefinite suspension for at least the entire 2022 season. Sue Robinson, a former federal judge, will deliver the decision.

  • Watson faced 24 civil lawsuits that accused him of sexual misconduct during massage sessions when he was with the Texans. He has settled 20 of the 24 cases. He was not indicted on criminal charges by two Texas grand juries earlier this offseason. Watson has denied any wrongdoing.
  • While this is not necessarily a final decision, the NFL Players Association said it will stand by Robinson’s decision and not appeal. A possible Watson suspension would likely stem from Robinson determining Watson violated the league’s personal conduct policy

The Browns signed Jacoby Brissett back in March — one day after they traded for Watson, in fact — and Brissett has taken plenty of first-team reps so far in training camp. Brissett, 29, started five games for the Dolphins last season and has also started for the Colts and Patriots. Cleveland also has Josh Rosen and Joshua Dobbs on its roster.

We’ll soon know how many games that combo of QBs may need to play in 2022.

Deebo Samuel inks monster extension with 49ers 🏈

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams

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There will be no more holding in from Deebo Samuel. The 49ers‘ do-it-all star wide receiver has agreed to a 3-year extension worth up to $73.5 million as the summer of the big-money wide receiver continues.

  • Samuel’s deal includes a whopping $58.1 million guaranteed and comes after he requested a trade earlier this offseason. He’s been at training camp but not participating.
  • Last year, Samuel became the first player in NFL history to record 1,300 receiving yards and 300 rushing yards in a season.
  • Samuel joins a star-studded list of wide receivers who got big money this offseason: Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill, Stefon Diggs, Mike Williams, Chris Godwin, DJ Moore, Christian Kirk and fellow 2019 draftees DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin.

Samuel is an electric talent who is a thrill to watch — only Cooper Kupp had more yards after the catch last year. He is a perfect fit for the modern NFL, where getting the ball to playmakers in space is paramount. Of Samuel’s 136 touches last season, nearly 60 came when he lined up in the backfield, nearly 50 when he was split out wide and over 30 when he was in the slot.

This is obviously a huge, well-deserved win for Samuel and the 49ers, who will now surround new starting quarterback Trey Lance with Samuel, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Elijah Mitchell and a strong offensive line.

Mariners trade for Reds All-Star pitcher Luis Castillo ⚾

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USATSI

The Seattle Mariners seem quite serious about ending their 21-year playoff drought. They’re certainly spending like it at least. The Mariners traded for two-time All-Star Luis Castillo over the weekend, acquiring potentially the best pitcher rumored to be available as the trade deadline approaches.

Castillo — whose 597 strikeouts over the last four seasons rank 10th in MLB — did not come cheap. The Reds got a strong return of Seattle’s top prospects:

  • SS Noelvi Marte
  • SS Edwin Arroyo
  • RHP Levi Stoudt
  • RHP Andrew Moore

Both the Mariners and Reds received “A” trade grades from MLB expert R.J. Anderson, but it’s the Mariners we’ll focus on for now. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2001 but currently sit second in the AL Wild Card race.

  • Anderson: “This is a welcomed sight in a few respects, beginning with how it rewards a passionate (and tormented) Seattle fan base and extending to how it runs counterculture to the league as a whole. … The Mariners now have a better chance at hosting [a first-round] series and can trot out a three-game rotation that includes Castillo, the reigning Cy Young Award winner [Robbie Ray], and Logan Gilbert, one of the most promising young starters in the sport. … We’re giving the Mariners an A because we think teams — particularly those who aren’t the usual suspects — prioritizing the potential for deep playoff runs is healthier for the sport, and because we quite like Castillo as a pitcher.”

Honorable mentions

What we’re watching Monday 📺

Red Sox at Astros, 8 p.m. on ESPN

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