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FBI Releases Bill Russell's File, Which Includes Allegation of Betting Against Own Team

The FBI released its Bill Russell files this week. Almost all of the declassified documents, copies of which Defector Media’s Diana Moskovitz had requested after Russell’s July 2022 death, are filled with boilerplate racism and white paranoia covertly compiled between 1971 and 1974. The bureau that J. Edgar Hoover built clearly got riled up whenever Russell had any dealings with prominent civil rights activists. That's not exactly man-bites-dog stuff from the public dicks. What is new in this file is a seemingly unsourced allegation that Russell bet against his own team.

Much of the file comes from early 1971, as redacted or otherwise unnamed sources told the FBI that Russell was in contact with Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, both Black Panther higher-ups. Newton and Cleaver were feuding at the time, and it appears the feds were concerned that Russell was intent on serving as an intermediary in hopes of mending fences between the two. The FBI, from the sound of things, wanted the power struggle to continue. The FBI, however, gave up its investigation when it determined that Russell had gotten in touch with the Panthers in hopes of landing guests for a syndicated TV show that would soon hit the airwaves, The Bill Russell Show.

Another fine example of hamfisted cop skills comes in a memo where FBI investigators are told that the “Bill Russell” they’d tracked to Panther figurehead Angela Davis’s birthday party in January 1971 “was not identical” to their intended investigative target of the same name.  

By late 1973, the FBI seemed to abandon any effort to prove Russell, described in the file as “an arrogant black who generally refused white children his autograph in an abusive way,” was an actual enemy of the state: ”There is no indication in our files that Mr. Russell is a black extremist or is involved in black extremist activities,” states a newly released FBI memo dated Nov. 27, 1973.

That document was prepared at the request of Jane Dannenhauer, an aide in the Nixon White House whose title was “staff assistant, Security.” You’d think the Nixon White House would have more serious matters to attend to than Bill Russell at that time. Dannenhauer, for example, received another work memo mere months later, in August of 1974, telling her she had a new boss.

But Dannenhauer and in all likelihood the new president weren’t ready to let Russell go. Because in September 1974, Dannenhauer was sent a compendium of all FBI investigations of Russell through the years. The document was prepared at the request of the White House under Gerald Ford, who somehow had the motivation and time to go after the transcendent basketball star despite having taken over a very disheveled country from Richard Nixon just a month before. 

And that particular memo, the most recent in the FBI’s document dump, includes one bombshell of an accusation against Russell: He bet on his team to lose.

Read entire article at Defector