On November 3, 1979, Bill Russell hosted “Saturday Night Live,” which was then airing its fifth season (via IMDb). In his opening monologue, he emphasized that teamwork is the key to success in athletics and entertainment. “A successful TV show is not that different from a successful basketball team,” Russell said. “Everyone has to work together to make the best show possible.”
Russell appears in four sketches throughout the episode, including a parody of the then-popular show “The White Shadow” which the “SNL” writers dubbed “The Black Shadow.” He next appears as Staff Sergeant Evander Williams in a sketch where Bill Murray performs as a nerdy lounge singer at a USO show. The two icons also share the stage in another skit where Murray plays a clueless talk show host and Russell simply plays himself. Russell’s last appearance on “SNL” came in the show’s closing skit as a customer at a big and tall men’s clothing store.
Needless to say, it seems obvious that Russell will be remembered for his accomplishments in basketball and his active role in the civil rights movements. However, it’s also worth noting that Russell’s appearance on “SNL” marked the first time an NBA player hosted the variety show. In the decades since, a plethora of famous athletes have followed in his footsteps (via The ring).