The Oakland roots of Boston Celtics greatness

Beneath the incandescent light of an incandescent sky in Oakland, California, a young Paul Cyrus, in the sweet heat of a late summer night, sits in front of Celtics great pal Bill Russell, his brother. I was playing basketball with Charlie, my cousin Fritz and Aaron Poynter. On the sidelines, the Pointer sisters enjoyed the show even though they were still ten years apart before becoming the Pointer sisters.

Basketball played in the 18th, and Adeline’s DeFremery Park in the early 1960s was the axis around which their world revolved. It was a quiet but poignant testimony of what a family that immigrated to Oakland in the 1940s built for themselves to escape Jim Crow’s brutal and institutionalized oppression in the American South. .

From Jim Crow’s bitter legacy, the Cyrus, Russell, and Poynter families (and many others) have created a community where greatness is more than a dream, to enjoy the heat of sultry summer nights with friends. of space is available.

But picking up basketball in the park wasn’t the only thing the independent, up-and-coming community in the margins of the Bay Area made possible. provided role models and opportunities that did not exist at

It produced a staggering concentration of greatness, as if compensating for the man-made obstacles of structural racism.

Across from DeFremery Park, Cyrus’ family lived in a house they shared with the Poynter family. The basement had been converted into another apartment.

Like many others, they were connected by their grandparents who came to the city on the transcontinental railroad, which was the destination for black families leaving the South during the Great Migration in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Tako families can create the power of community combined with individual greatness.

Surrounded by two families of Italian immigrants, the home not only produced the Celtic great Paul Cyrus, but also a major league baseball player named Aaron Poynter, an African history scholar (and Hooper) named Fritz Poynter, and the Pointer Sisters Ruth, Anita, Bonnie and June, the most popular pop group of the 20th century.

Zooming out to their alma mater, McClymonds High School, the list of politicians, academics and athletes is incredibly long, including NBA pioneer Bill Russell, MLB star Vada Pinson, Including MC Hammer.

“Me and my brother were reminiscing and reminiscing,” Ruth shared with Celtics Wire after her cousin Paul passed away.

“Especially in the summer, when I lived across the street from the park, I used to play basketball at night,” she added.

A founding member of the Pointer Sisters, Ruth painted a picture of a carefree life. There remained the fame for which they were all known. Except, of course, for Boston star Bill Russell, who made the trip home to stay in touch with his roots. before them.

“It was so thrilling to watch them play basketball. Just having fun, just having fun!”

Hall of Fame basketball player Bill Russell checks out the new Wall of Fame and other athletic facility upgrades at McClymonds High School in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, March 26, 2013. The Boston Celtics said he was on the bench in high school. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, D. Ross Cameron)

“We didn’t even know how lucky we were to be in that neighborhood,” she continued. I was just having fun.”

“Back then, the park had lights around the basketball court,” recalls Fritz, echoing Ruth.

“Full court, half court, whatever it was, people sat in the stands and waited because you had to pick a team and the winning team stayed on the court.”

“Playing by the lights at night was something that both Paul and I thought was a great time in our lives,” he added.

The house they shared with Silases on the corner of DeFremery Park was itself a magnet for community life. Paul’s railroad worker grandfather cooked a large breakfast for all of Poynter and his Silas children’s companions.

“He was making slabs of homemade biscuits from scratch,” Ruth recalled. The scent of biscuits was almost evident through the joy in her voice as she recalled the moment.

“He fried a lot of ham steaks and the kids were on their way to McLymons so he stopped by our house and had breakfast there,” she continued.

“They were sitting on the front steps of the house eating food with my brothers and then — this was usually on Fridays because they knew there was a big game that night. —The cheerleaders stopped by on the way to school.

“My grandfather loved to feed everyone,” says Ruth.

“In hindsight, we didn’t even realize how lucky we were at the time,” she says, as the Pointer sisters turn to Sesame Street for young children (authors, etc.). I talked about years before I started teaching. Or providing the soundtrack to Eddie Murphy’s “Beverly Hills Cop.”

“We were enjoying our lives and we were kids,” Ruth said. “Of course me and my sisters didn’t even have the idea that we were going to be ourselves. It was all about my brother, right?

But as she later found out, that wasn’t the case — at least not quite.


This is the first in a series of articles dedicated to the memory of the community that allowed Paul Silas and Bill Russell, and many of them and their peers, to get their attention. Special thanks to Ruth and Fritz Pointer for their time and stories.

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The story was originally published on Celtics Wire

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