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Why Bill Russell statue should replace Christopher Columbus near Coit Tower

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Why Bill Russell statue should replace Christopher Columbus near Coit Tower

A statue of Christopher Columbus no longer stands in the shadow of Coit Tower.

The statue, sculpted by one of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini's bodyguards, was moved to storage Thursday. It had been vandalized three times in the past week, as statues of Columbus, Confederate leaders and other men whose legacies are inseparable from racism and oppression come down around the world amid global protests following George Floyd's death in police custody last month. 

Columbus' arrival in the Americas in 1492 ushered in an era of colonialism, defined by the genocide and displacement of indigenous peoples and the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The removal of Columbus' statue -- in San Francisco and elsewhere around the United States -- represents partial and overdue recognition of the fundamental roles that the oppression of Native and Black Americans played in the founding and development of this country, as well as that of their modern ramifications. 

"At a time of great unrest and deep reflection by our country, we recognize the pain and oppression that Christopher Columbus represents to many," supervisor Aaron Peskin said Thursday in a statement to NBC Bay Area. "We believe that through public art we can and should honor the heritage of all of our people, including our Italian-American community, but in doing so we should choose symbols that unify us. The Arts and Recreation and Park Commissions will engage in a public process to determine what artwork should go in that space near Coit Tower."

The difficulty of the task comes not in replacing Columbus, a man whose list of atrocities committed in his own life alone was long enough to warrant a re-examination of his status as a mythic figure in America, but in limiting the options. Focusing on pioneering athletes with ties to San Francisco and the Bay Area, then, could offer inspiration. 

How about Colin Kaepernick, the second Black quarterback to start for the 49ers and the last 49ers QB to start a game in San Francisco's city limits? His 2016 protest of police brutality and institutional racism by kneeling during the national anthem highlighted the same societal issues protestors around the world are demonstrating against. Kaepernick has continued the work by advancing causes of social justice, even as no NFL team has signed him since 2017.

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Why not honor Toni Stone, who played in San Francisco before breaking baseball's gender barrier with the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro American League in 1953? In doing so, Stone would become only the fourth nonfictional woman commemorated with a statue in the city.

One option would, however, stand above the rest: Literally, due to his 6-foot-10 height, and figuratively, in the eyes of this writer.

San Francisco should replace Columbus' statue with one honoring Bill Russell, the former University of San Francisco star whose transcendent dominance on the court is eclipsed by his unwavering fight for change off of it.

Yes, Russell, who grew up in West Oakland, won two NCAA titles, five NBA MVP awards and 11 NBA championships. The last two of his rings with the Boston Celtics came as a player-coach when Russell broke the league's color barrier for head coaches. 

But Russell also unflinchingly spoke out against the discrimination he experienced in Boston and beyond. Russell led the first integrated basketball camp in Mississippi after Medgar Evers' assassination in 1963 and participated in the March on Washington months later. He vocally supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and Russell also was one of nearly a dozen Black athletes who publicly stood alongside Muhammad Ali at the 1967 Cleveland Summit following Ali's conscientious objection to the Vietnam War.

Russell has not stopped speaking out, even using his Twitter account to kneel in solidarity with NFL players who protested during the anthem in 2017 and writing in the Boston Globe last week about his sincere hope that "real, lasting change will finally be realized." Former President Barack Obama awarded Russell the Medal of Freedom in 2011, and the NBA gave him its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.

His on-court accomplishments lent him a platform, but Russell has continually used it for causes far greater than himself. Russell's legacy is one worth honoring and remembering, and the now-open spot near Coit Tower -- nestled in the city where he attended college and across the bay from where he grew up -- is a fitting place to do so. 

Scores of men and women are worthy of the honor, and monuments to their legacies can inspire current and future generations. But few will stand as tall as Bill Russell.

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Why Danny Ainge really welcomed trade from Celtics to Kings in 1989

Why Danny Ainge really welcomed trade from Celtics to Kings in 1989

Danny Ainge was coming off his first and only All-Star season with the Boston Celtics going into the 1988-89 season. Instead of growing into Boston's top option, though, the Celtics traded him to the Sacramento Kings in February 1989. 

The Kings had won only 24 games the previous season, but with the trade being spearheaded by Bill Russell, Ainge welcomed the move after winning two championships with the Celtics.

“I think it made a lot of sense and I was excited about it,” Ainge said to the Boston Globe's Gary Washburn. “Bill Russell was my general manager and he had talked with his good friend K.C. Jones about me. I was excited to go to Sacramento and after that first year, there was a lot to look forward to in that franchise.”

Ainge averaged a career-high 20.3 points per game for the Kings in his 28 games after the trade. It looked like he could be the star Sacramento badly needed. And then it all came crashing down. 

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The Kings selected center Pervis Ellison with the No. 1 pick in the 1989 NBA Draft. He lasted one season in Sacramento before being traded to the Washington Bullets in June 1990. Kenny Smith averaged 17.3 points per game in '88-'89 and then was traded to the Atlanta Hawks as well in February 1990. And there was tragedy, too.

Sacramento selected guard Ricky Berry with the No. 18 pick in the '89 draft, and he averaged 11.0 points per game as a rookie. But in August 1989, he took his own life. 

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Ainge had another strong season for the Kings in 1989-90, averaging 17.9 points. Sacramento, however, only won 23 games. The Kings told Ainge they were going to rebuild again after that down season and asked where he desired to go. He wound up on the Portland Trail Blazers and played another five seasons in the NBA -- two with the Blazers, three with the Phoenix Suns -- after his short stint in Sacramento. 

The late '80s were riddled with bad luck for the Kings. Ainge, though, believed in Sacramento, and having Bill Russell on your side never hurts as well.

Why Warriors' fake Marcus Smart trade would make GM Bob Myers proud

Why Warriors' fake Marcus Smart trade would make GM Bob Myers proud

Whenever the NBA season officially concludes, the Warriors will enter a critical offseason in which they are expected to use the assets at their disposal to revamp the roster back to championship-contender status. However, with the uncertainty due to the coronavirus, it's difficult to know when that process might begin.

It could be days, weeks or even months. So, rather than continuing to wait an indefinite amount of time for the NBA offseason to commence, Bleacher Report currently is simulating how it might proceed

As part of the 2020 Bleacher Report NBA fantasy general manager league, 30 employees were selected to represent each of the NBA franchises for a week of trades leading up to a mock NBA draft. Bleacher Report's Sean Jordan, a diehard Warriors fan, was chosen to be the GM for Golden State -- the position Bob Myers holds in reality.

Jordan didn't waste any time pulling off a major move befitting of the "Swindle God." On Tuesday, he participated in a three-team trade in which the Warriors acquired Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart.

To complete the three-team trade, the Warriors absorbed Smart's contract using the $17.2 million Andre Iguodala trade exception and sent both Jordan Poole and Golden State's 2020 first-round draft pick (No. 1 overall) to the Atlanta Hawks. In addition to Smart, the Warriors also received the Cleveland Cavaliers' 2020 first-round draft pick (No. 3 overall), as well as a $2.1 million trade exception for jettisoning Poole.

So essentially, the Warriors traded Poole, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick and a massive trade exception for Smart, the 2020 No. 3 overall pick and a small trade exception.

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Talk about a swindle. Myers surely would be proud.

"I had my eyes on Marcus Smart from the beginning," Jordan said once the deal was finalized.

Initially, Jordan planned to keep the Iguodala trade exception "in the holster," but once Smart was made available, he couldn't pass up the opportunity.

"I love the small-ball lineup [with Smart]," Jordan told NBC Sports Bay Area. "Obviously they're going to score points with Steph [Curry] and Klay [Thompson], but they'll be great defensively, too. Draymond [Green], Smart and Klay are three of the top 15 defenders in the league. That's a pretty damn good start."

Smart is regarded as one of the top on-ball defenders in the NBA, and his tenacity would fit in right alongside Green's. He also would provide the Warriors with another sorely-needed ball-handler and distributor. Of course, it cost Golden State its own 2019 and 2020 first-round picks, but that was a price Jordan was willing to pay, mainly due to how he views the incoming draft class. In dropping back from the No. 1 overall pick to No. 3, the Warriors -- in theory -- could still land the best player in a draft that doesn't yet have a consensus top prospect.

And as for Poole, well, Jordan wasn't overly impressed with his rookie season.

"He looks like he should be a better shooter than he is," Jordan said. "I wanted a better shooter than him, and I figured I could find that in this draft."

Poole shot 33.3 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from 3-point range as a rookie, so Jordan's reasoning appears valid. Not to mention, he added Smart, who, while not a prolific shooter, would still be an upgrade in that department.

From a value perspective, the Warriors made off like bandits in this trade. However, the financial component might prove to be a challenge moving forward. Smart has two years remaining on his contract and will carry an annual cap hit of approximately $14 million over that span. Consequently, Jordan and Golden State don't have much remaining wiggle room.

"I'm completely hamstrung," Jordan described with a chuckle. "I'm hard-capped. Who knew being a GM of a team with superstars would be hard to maneuver?"

Apparently, Jordan is encountering the same sort of trade environment Myers has been dealing with for the last few years -- that being, his peers are reluctant to trade with him out of fear that the Warriors might add yet another superstar.

"Everyone is really hesitant to make a trade with me, because no one wants to trade with the Warriors," Jordan said. "I tried to make offers for Giannis [Antetokounmpo], [Joel] Embiid ... nothing. Totally ghosted."

Smart might not be a superstar on the level of those players, but he's no slouch himself. He immediately would become one of Golden State's five best players on a team that would have to be considered among the top championship contenders in the league. Additionally, the Warriors would have the third overall pick in 2020, as well as the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first-round pick, to further improve the roster.

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And, it sounds like Jordan might not be done yet, no matter how reluctant his peers might be to engage him in trade discussions.

"I have hopefully one more trade up my sleeve," he slyly hinted.

Let's see if he can swindle that one, too.