Ex-Michigan great Cazzie Russell blown away by his iconic mural inside the new Crisler Center
When Cazzie Russell walked into his renovated "house," he wanted to be there to show him his big surprise.
"The day we had the meeting and came up for the plan for what was going to happen, I said 'I have one thing that I insist upon,' " Brandon said Friday night. "I wanted to be there when Cazzie Russell sees this for the first time."
The surprise in question for Russell -- Michigan's legendary former All-American from the 1960s -- was the giant mural that welcomes all Wolverine basketball fans into the newly renovated Crisler Center.
Michigan immortalized its former star by painting a depiction of the iconic photo of Russell from the 1960s, standing inside the Crisler Arena construction site with a pair of basketballs, a letterman's jacket and a trademark smile.
The massive image features pieces of the old Crisler Arena floor, and the words "The House that Cazzie Built."
An honor that nearly brought the man to tears.
"To see that wall, I almost lost it, but I held on," said Russell, 68, after Friday night's Return to Crisler rededication event. "They just told me that the arena had been renovated and they were having a rededication, but they didn't give me any details.
"That was a nice surprise and a wonderful gesture. A lot of thought goes into that, a lot of great players played with me and you look at something like that and you remember winning the Big Ten three straight years, going to the Final Four ... it's a great arena."
Russell led Michigan to three consecutive Big Ten titles from 1963-1966, he averaged 30.8 points per game during his senior season and finished his three-year career at 27.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
Michigan basketball's first true super hero, Russell one was of several former alums to return to Ann Arbor this week to help rededicate the new Crisler Center -- a weekend that will wrap up with the Wolverines hosting Penn State on Sunday (noon, Big Ten Network).
The weekend itself belongs to all former Michigan players, but Friday night's festivities seemed to belong to Russell.
He joined former men's star Glen Rice and former women's star Diane Dietz on stage for a 45-minute conversation with Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard.
Russell talked about his earliest memories of playing at Yost Arena, how the head of Michigan's university bookstore helped him deal with the adjustment to college life, his greatest moments and his retired No. 33.
"We had a great tour of the new arena, and it was time (to do this)," Russell said. "It looks great, unbelievable."
Russell's house has a new look, a new feel and a new team.
But from now until forever, anyone entering Crisler Center's newly-furbished atrium lobby will be greeted by the man who helped put the program on the map.
Just as it should be.
"I had an opportunity to come up the escalator at the same time as Cazzie did," Rice said. "And to view his portrait on the wall there, it was amazing.
"I almost cried for him."
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