Shaquille O'Neal says that he decided to play outwardly nice with Kobe Bryant because Bill Russell told him to. Bygones, and all that.
OK, then. We'd like to book Russell as peacemaker without portfolio, because this is a man who brings some legitimate heat to the table. Not that blustery, stand-up-in-a-crowd-so-everyone-notices-you fake heat, but the real, lapel-grabbing, undivided-attention type of heat that is exceedingly rare in this B.S.-enriched environment.
First, let's be clear on this O'Neal-Bryant thing. Much of it, we believe, is designed by O'Neal and Bryant just for the spectacle of watching the attendant media run around like ants on a dessert cart. They don't design it in cahoots with each other, but because they have discovered separately that there's a market for silly, effect-less tendentiousness in the 24/7 news cycle, and there is power in watching 75 notebook-and-microphone jockeys stand around waiting to record their every off-the-cuff remark.
In short, they enjoy the power that comes from playing us, and we stand around knowing they're playing us but record it all anyway out of fear that our bosses will object to our not being played like everyone else.
And if that makes sense to you, you're not getting enough Mad Dog 20/20 in your diet.
Russell, though, is one of those people who rise above the trivial nonsense because there is more than enough real nonsense to occupy a thoughtful man's time. Read his autobiographies (and yes, he lived enough life to have two) and see if we're wrong.
And when he went to O'Neal and said whatever it is he said (we are taking O'Neal at face value here when he says it was mostly a chat about those bygones), what he was also saying was this:
The Kobe feud isn't all that entertaining. It's now well into its second year and has lost most of its useful sting. It has descended into cheap vaudeville to entertain the masses. And finally, life's too short to play the wounded ex-partner; Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis blew a huge hunk of their lives not talking to each other out of simple they-expect-me-to pride.
Or maybe he wasn't saying that at all, but he should have. Russell had his problems with Wilt Chamberlain over an offhand remark over the 1969 NBA championship, and it took years for them to remember that they were not just combatants but contemporaries in a very small club -- people who own their surroundings.
You can't buy that kind of wisdom, you have to learn it, typically face-first. And Russell, having learned it, imparted it two basketball generations down the line to O'Neal because, well, O'Neal is also in that very small club and is more inclined to listen to Russell than most folks.
And if Russell can spare us, even inadvertently, the Kobe-Shaq arglebargle, then he is owed a grand debt by the rest of the nation. We could even hire him as America's B.S. Eradicator Laureate, because if ever there was need for such a position and someone legitimate to fill it, the time is now.
Russell might not feel like it, true. He's pulled his share of sleds uphill, and he's in his 70s, and well, why can't we do it ourselves?
The answer to that last one is obvious. Watch a half-hour of television if you're not sure. Fact is, we fall for this idiocy all the time, as though idiocy is in and of itself sufficient raison d'etre. We need a good slap from someone who knows how to impart a message, and given his work with the Bryant-O'Neal brush fire, Russell may be just the guy.
In fact, make that not "may be," but "damned well certainly is." Russell has that gift for cutting through the pure-bred stupidity of an issue. There are others who can do this, of course, but he has 11 rings, and we do tend to respond to that credential more than to the chap with just one Nobel Science Prize.
It could be a federal job -– Secretary Of Crap Eradication. It's not a glamorous name, we grant you, and we don't even want to think of what the official seal would look like. But we need it, badly.
It would have an appointed and not an elected gig, because we wouldn't want him replaced by some lightweight party hack who gave umpty-thousand bucks to the elected gasbag of the day. It would have to be more like the Supreme Court.
Oh, and it would have to pay plenty. I mean, have you seen how much pure weaselry is out there? There'd have to be a full sub-committee just for the rum pots and blowhards in figure skating alone.
And if Russell can't do it, or won't, then the hell with it. We're doomed, crushed by our own fascination with our own trash. Or, to quote the old Anglican prelate Gene Wilder in The Producers, "No way out ... no way out ... no way out ... no way out ..."