Three lives from both sides to inspire
Billy Porter onstage during MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Joni Mitchell at MGM Grand Marquee Ballroom on April 01, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
In a world of loud mouths, liars and cynicism, be Vin Scully.
In a world of hypocrites, sycophants and political opportunists, be Bill Russell.
In an atonal world of calamity, discord and despair, be Joni Mitchell.
Vin Scully, Bill Russell and Joni Mitchell reminded us this summer of what can be best about us — the first two as we eulogized them, the latter in a joyful return to a side of life she had lost.
In doing so, this trio momentarily calmed a stormy summer of monkeypox, mass shootings, war, Roe overturned, braying book banners, deadly floods, attempted autocracy, outlandish conspiracy theories and our planet at turns burning and baking.
Amid this maelstrom, their lives model for us the goodness of grace, the strength of dignity and a perfect mingling of music and memory. Their lives give us hope.
Their lives inspire.
Beloved away from press box
Scully was the voice of baseball’s Dodgers, first in Brooklyn, then Los Angeles. He broadcast other sports during his 67 years behind the microphone, but it was Dodger baseball for
which we knew him. I lived in Los Angeles for 10 years. So popular was Scully that at Dodger Stadium during a lull in crowd noise you could hear his voice coming through thousands of transistor radios, fans at the game still wanting Scully to unspool the story in his trademark smart, silky and smooth way.
Scully was comfortable and clear whether quoting Shakespeare or describing a squeeze play. He often said, “Have I told you this story?” as if he were talking personally to you.
As praise poured in after his death, what struck me was not the broadcasting accolades where he was the gold standard, but rather those stories of his grace, kindness and affability. Sure, he called a game like no one else, but he was beloved for who he was away from the press box, too.
Bill Russell was a giant of a man. He also stood 6 feet 10 inches. Russell had few peers on the basketball court. He holds the record for the most NBA championships and transformed the game with his defense and rebounding. Many believe he was the NBA’s best player ever. Indeed, the NBA has permanently retired his number 6 for all its 30 teams.
A fierce dignity
His was a fierce dignity, on the court and working in civil rights. Both made his impact legendary. As the Celtics’ only black player in 1956, he faced racism at home and on the road. In
1963 he went to Mississippi after civil rights leader Medgar Evers was murdered. There, Russell ran an integrated basketball camp in the KKK’s backyard.
In a pairing of two giants, Russell sat in the front row for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He stood by Muhammad Ali when the boxer refused the draft. He famously took a knee, his Presidential Medal of Freedom in hand, to support Colin Kapernick’s protest of police brutality.
NBA Commissioner Adam Stern said, “Bill stood for something much bigger than sports: the values of equality, respect and inclusion that he stamped into the DNA of our league. … Bill advocated vigorously for civil rights and social justice, a legacy he passed down to generations of NBA players. … Through the taunts, threats and unthinkable adversity, Bill rose above it all and remained true to his belief that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity.”
Music, culture and hope
“Joni,” (an affectionate endearment to us fans) suffered a debilitating brain aneurysm in 2015, forcing her to relearn not simply how to walk and talk but also how to play the guitar and sing, staples of a career that had provided the soundtrack to millions of lives over several generations. Contemporaries Bob Dylan and Joan Baez took on war and civil rights; Joni’s ballads underscored the beauty, pain and lessons of love won and lost; of a messy, quixotic world; and, finally, of life in all its permutations.
When she appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in late July, however, she checked plenty of the boxes: perseverance, joy, remembrance, music, culture and hope.
She played 13 songs, fronting, harmonizing and delighting a stage full of stars including Brandi Carlile and Wynonna Judd, thousands gathered at Newport and millions more who have watched her performance on video. Many said Joni’s presence, coupled with some musical muscle memory, brought toe-tapping … and tears.
In a world short on inspiration, we need look no further than the lives of Vin Scully, Bill Russell and Joni Mitchell.
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