Remembering When Bill Russell Played A Corrupt Judge On Miami Vice

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I'd love to know the backstory behind this inspired bit of casting. Who is it that looks at a script calling for a corrupt Miami judge and says, "Get me Bill Russell on the phone now!" Indeed, in a second-season episode of Miami Vice, Russell makes a star turn as a crooked judge who pays off gambling debts by taking bribes. Of course, that's when everything goes straight to hell.

Harvey Fierstein plays a defense lawyer who's close to Russell, and a very familiar face pops up in a critical role as Russell's bookie. Conveniently, the judge has a potential way out of this mess, namely by asking his talented, college basketball-playing son to engage in point-shaving. Who did they cast for that? None other than Bernard King, who was in the midst of missing the entire 1985-86 season—after having just led the league in scoring at 33 a clip—so he actually had plenty of time to head down south for a few days of filming.


A newspaper preview at the time teased the episode as such:

No, it's not here comes the judge. It's here comes Bill Russell playing a judge. The former Boston Celtic turned sportscaster plays a magistrate, suspected of going over to the mobsters by accepting bribes. Crockett, who's always angry — and always looks unkempt and needs a shave, too — goes after the 6 foot 9 judge. Also guesting are Bernard King, NBA forward, and Harvey Fierstein, Tony winner on Broadway in '83 for "Torch Song Trilogy."


King was still only 28 at the time, and he didn't quite have the acting chops of his fictional father, who's so overcome with guilt by the end that he ... oh, just watch. This is why they give out guest-star Emmys in the first place, though Russell was tragically overlooked. (And if you're so inclined, the entire episode is available on Hulu.)

h/t Emile A.