All high schools can boast of a legendary athlete, the one who made it all the way to the big leagues in their chosen sport. Every so often, however, a school produces that player who ascends to the elite level of superstardom, to be ranked among the best of the best.
Bill Russell would still have to be known as the greatest player ever from a California school. Will any of the current NBA superstars from the state one day catch up to him? Photo: SteinerSports.com.
McClymonds High School of Oakland can boast of a feat that certainly stands out in the crowd. From 1950-52, the Oakland school boasted of two sensational athletes who would go on to history-making, Hall of Fame careers in their chosen sports. Their list of accomplishments included earning multiple MVPs in their fields.
From 1949-52, Bill Russell was part of the McClymonds basketball team. Moving on to play NCAA basketball at San Francisco and later to the NBA’s Boston Celtics, Russell would be selected five times as the NBA’s MVP. He’d also lead the Celtics to an astonishing 11 league titles. When Russell was with the Celtics, when it came to NBA betting, Boston was always the favorite.
Russell’s No. 15 jersey hangs proudly in a place of honor on the Wall of Fame in the McClymonds gym. The year after he graduated, a senior who would also go on to reach great accomplishments on America’s playing fields stepped up as team leader for McClymonds.
The scoring leader for the McClymonds basketball team during the 1952-53 season was Frank Robinson. Yes, that Frank Robinson, the only man to have been recognized as MVP in both of baseball’s major leagues, the National and American.
Russell Fondly Remembers McClymonds
Along with his 11 NBA titles, Russell also earned a pair of NCAA championships with the Dons and an Olympic gold medal for the United States at the 1960 Summer Olympics.
Among a stellar list of California high school basketball stars who reached the NBA, a group that includes Kawhi Leonard, Paul Pierce, Bill Walton, Russell Westbrook, Reggie Miller, James Harden and Jason Kidd, Russell is considered to be the best that the state ever produced.
He’s never forgotten the lessons that were learned playing under coach George Powles at McClymonds.
“The key to all my success was the friendship of my teammates,” Russell told NBA.com. “We looked out for each other, and that’s what you have to do in school. Look out for each other, because no one from the outside is going to look out for you.”
In 2008, when the Warriors won a state championship, Russell returned to his alma mater to personally congratulate the members of that title-winning squad.
“I was really lucky when I was at McClymonds, because not only did we have some really great athletes, but good, intelligent people,” Russell told the players, according to the East Bay Times. “I feel just as honored meeting you guys, because of the way you conduct yourself and because we come from the same place.”
Robinson Was Baseball, Basketball Star
Frank Robinson (right) played with McClymonds teammate Vada Pinson with the Cincinnati Reds. Photo: BaseballHistoryComesAlive.com.
The parallels between Robinson and Russell are remarkable and they all started at McClymonds. Russell was the first African-American head coach in the NBA. Robinson was the first African-American manager in MLB.
Robinson was a 14-time MLB All-Star. Russell was a 12-time NBA All-Star. In 1961, Robinson was named NL MVP playing for the Cincinnati Reds. Traded to the Baltimore Orioles in 1966, Robinson helped the Birds win the World Series that year and was selected AL MVP. He clouted 586 homers during his big-league career.
With a movement afoot among the Baseball Writers Association of America to remove the name of former MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis from the MVP trophy due to his tacit support of segregation in baseball, Robinson’s name has been put forth as a logical replacement.
McClymonds was also a baseball powerhouse when Robinson was there. Powles coached that team as well and Robinson’s teammates on the diamond included future MLB stars Curt Flood and Vada Pinson.
On the hardwood, there were those in places of prominence in basketball circles who believed had Robinson pursued basketball as his chosen sport, he not only would’ve made the NBA, he would’ve been a star.
Frank Robinson could do it all,” former NBA coach Charlie Eckman once said. “He was All-NBA as a high schooler.
“Russell could play defense, but Robinson could do everything.”
Frank Robinson died on Feb. 7, 2019 at age 83 in Los Angeles. Bill Russell will turn 87 in February of 2021.