Bill Russell with a man he met behind the Iron Curtain 52 years ago.

Christmas is often about connecting with those you haven’t seen in a while, and boy, was that ever true for Boston Celtics’ legend Bill Russell Monday. Russell took to Twitter to share the story of reconnecting with someone he met 52 years ago behind the Iron Curtain:

That’s amazing. But what was Russell doing behind the Iron Curtain in the first place? A 2006 article by Aram Goudsouzian in the Journal of American Studies, titled Bill Russell And The Basketball Revolution, explains (page 10):

Russell further emerged as an international symbol of American democracy. In the midst of the Cold War, when the repression of African Americans wounded the nation’s reputation abroad, black celebrities could be showcased as examples of a racial meritocracy. The State Department sponsored Russell on a tour of West Africa in 1959; Russell even bought a rubber plantation in Liberia. Both the African-American and mass-market media trumpeted Russell’s capitalistic initiative, as well as his contribution to the development of the nation formed by freed American slaves. In Europe, where basketball gained steady popularity, Russell was better known than Mickey Mantle or Jim Brown. In 1964 Russell headlined an all-star tour through Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, and the United Arab Republic. Before they slipped behind the Iron Curtain, the team received a personal briefing from Secretary of State Dean Rusk.

It’s pretty cool that Russell was involved with that during his playing days, and that he was able to reconnect with someone he met there so many years later. A Christmas miracle indeed.

[Bill Russell on Twitter]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing.