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Sacramento Fans Have No Problem With Dumping Bill Russell

December 24, 1989|BILL POINDEXTER | McCLATCHY NEWS SERVICE

SACRAMENTO — It's nearly unanimous.

Sacramento fans voiced their approval of Bill Russell's firing as enthusiastically as they booed the selection of Pervis Ellison as the Kings' No. 1 draft pick last summer.

In fact, many fans found a link between Ellison's arrival and Russell's departure in opinions expressed on the streets Tuesday.

Ellison, who finished fourth in a local newspaper's "Whom Should They Draft" phone-in poll behind Sean Elliott, Danny Ferry and Stacey King, was the first pick in the NBA draft.

"Russell thought he could mold (Ellison) into his style of play," 22-year-old Steve Cantwell said. "But why would you choose someone like that, anyway?

"I liked (Russell) as a player. Sure, he could play ball, but he's not a management type of man."

Ellison was signed to a contract worth approximately $2 million per year, only to undergo foot and ankle surgery. He eventually went on the injured list with tendinitis in his left big toe and is not expected back until March, if at all.

"They had the No. 1 pick and blew it, that's all," John Weightmen, 44, said.

Russell was faulted for giving Ellison permission to return to Louisville, Ky., so he can spend Christmas with his family while the team is on a five-city road trip.

"(Russell) made nothing but bad moves, but for (Ellison) to be in Kentucky is wrong," Jeff Carroll, 31, said. "I don't care if he's not playing. He should participate in every team function. I can't believe they don't have him on the bench every game."

"That probably helped with his getting released," Bret Danel, 30, said.

Other reactions to Russell's firing ranged from "The timing was bad" to "I like it" to "It's a fine choice" to "I think it's great" to "I'm not surprised."

"It's about time," was a common reaction, and one person just laughed.

"I didn't figure he would last through the season, not if they were going to keep playing the way they're playing," Tamara Miller, 36, said.

The Ellison Episode wasn't the only reason Russell didn't work out. When he signed a seven-year contract in April 1987, he brought with him that winning Celtics tradition and high hopes. But the Kings have been a lottery team each of the last three years. The fans didn't like the way he coached. They don't like the trades the Kings have made. They don't like the way Russell made himself unavailable to the public.

"He doesn't do anything with the players," said 19-year-old George Green, who laughed when he heard the news. "I don't know what he's been doing. Who knows? Maybe this is a good move."

"It's very hard to know what's ticking inside him," said Russ Fujita, 34.

"It's hard to take his side when he won't tell you his side," said Rich Beeskau, 24. "He came in with a lot of promise and hope, and nothing ever came out of it."

Bill Caples, 34, said he hated it when the Kings traded Otis Thorpe to Houston for Rodney McCray and Jim Petersen. Danel booed the deal that sent Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine to Boston for Danny Ainge and Brad Lohaus. Weightmen disagreed with the acquisition of sore-kneed Ralph Sampson, and Miller echoed that sentiment.

"He traded away some of the best players, and we haven't gotten anything back," Danel said.

"With every trade, we got the worst end of the deal," Caples said. "It's like the owners were saying, 'Here comes Bill Russell. What can we steal off him now?' "

Caples then softened his opinion. "I do like the overall direction the team is taking now."

"They should have gotten rid of him anyway," Carroll said. "I think (Kings managing general partner Gregg) Lukenbill has finally got more of a backbone."

"Russell wasn't much of a coach," Green said. "I guess he did an average job, considering the players he had. They had so much faith in him, and now he's fired."

"Look what he did with Seattle--it has taken them years to recover," Fujita said.

Actually, the Sonics won an NBA title two years after Russell's resignation as general manager and coach, largely with players he acquired.

"He wasn't really leading (the Kings) anywhere, and he was always in the background, by himself," Danel said. "A G.M. needs a good rapport with the people."

"They had to do something," said Jeff Silvera, 33, a season-ticket holder. "He was getting rid of all the wrong players and not getting the right kind of talent."

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